Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Influential Designer from Scotland

(1868-1928)

Mackintosh-Designed Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland
Mackintosh-Designed Glasgow School of Art, Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Margie Politzer/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

Scottish architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh was praised for his elegant detailing and skillful use of light and space. A contemporary of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Mackintosh took organic forms and naturalist Japanese influences to design buildings, interiors, and furnishings.

Background:

Born: June 7, 1868 in the Townhead area of Glasgow, Scotland

Died: December 10, 1928 in London, England

Education:

  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Toured Italy under a traveling scholarship

Early Training:

  • Apprenticeship with John Hutchinson
  • Draftsman for Honeyman & Keppie

Creative Collaborations:

During his time at the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh was part of "The Four," a group of designers that included the sisters Margaret and Frances MacDonald and fellow artist Herbert McNair.

"The Four" exhibited posters, graphic designs, and furniture in Great Britain and Europe. Along with other artists and designers, they developed the Glasgow Style, known for strong lines and graceful, symbolic shapes.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald married, forming a creative partnership that lasted their lifetimes.

Selected Buildings:

Other Works:

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is famous for unique furniture designs, such as the Hill House Chair, as well as designs for stained glass, textiles, clocks, and metalwork. Later in his career, Mackintosh painted water colors.

Important Styles:

The National Trust for Scotland calls Mackintosh's finest residential building, Hill House, "a visually arresting mix of Arts and Crafts, Art Nouveau, Scottish Baronial and Japonisme architecture and design."
Source: NTS website, accessed June 4, 2014

About Mackintosh:

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was one of eleven children, and he suffered from a limp and other health problems. Encouraged to spend time in the country, he developed a love of nature that later found expression in his Art Nouveau designs.

With his wife, Margaret MacDonald, Mackintosh pioneered modern design in Scotland, and their Art Nouveau works helped transform the Arts & Crafts movement in Britain. Frustrated by a lack of local recognition, the couple left Scotland for London at the start of World War I. By 1923 they had moved on to southern France, where their days were taken up more with the art of painting than architecture. Today his watercolors of flowers are often the subject of wall calendars and art prints.

What Others Say:

Buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh are praised for their elegant detailing and skillful use of light and space. In 1936 architecture historian Sir Nicolaus Pevsner called Mackintosh:

"...the European counterpart of Frank Lloyd Wright, and one of the few true forerunners of that most ingenious juggler with space: Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier once confessed that his desire in building is to create poetry. Mackintosh's attitude is very similar. Building in his hands becomes an abstract art, both musical and mathematical."—Pioneers of Modern Design: From William Morris to Walter Gropius by Nikolaus Pevsner, Yale University Press, 2005, p. 134

In 2014, the much-criticized Reid Building designed by American architect Steven Holl opened across the street from Glasgow's Mackintosh Building. Architecture critic Rowan Moore wrote:

"It's not as if the Reid Building did not already have issues of comparison with genius. Built to house the design department of the Glasgow School of Art, it is face-to-face, across the width of Renfrew Street, with Charles Rennie Mackintosh's building for the school, of 1897 to 1909. There may be no other building in the British Isles at once so original in its conception, brilliant in its execution and profound in its influence."—Reid Building Review by Rowan Moore, The Guardian, March 1, 2014 [accessed October 31, 2014]