Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Architect, designer and artist (1868-1928)

In 1928, at the age of 60, Charles Rennie Mackintosh died in London, from cancer. He was in relative penury, may have been an alcoholic, and was certainly ignored by his own country.

But, happy days, Scotland can now make a fortune from his legacy as one of the most fascinating architects and designers Europe has ever produced. Summer sales of Mackintosh adorned kitsch and tat, which would almost certainly have been disdained by the man himself, keep many a dull tourist shop owner in shortbread and oatcakes during the quiet winter months.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow on 7th June 1868, the second son in a family of eleven children, his father was a police superintendent.

At school Mackintosh had considerable difficulty with reading and writing. It is now known, through analysis of his letters, that he was dyslexic. In the late 1800's, he was viewed as not being gifted academically, another way of saying thick. But, thanks to a limp caused by a contracted sinew, he was not suited for manual labour and, at the age of 16 he became apprenticed to the architectural firm of John Hutchison.

Interior detail - Glasgow School of Art

Interior detail - Glasgow School of Art

After his working day finished, Mackintosh also attended the Glasgow School of Art, where he was recognised as a gifted pupil. At the age of 20 he won both his first commission as a professional, and a prize from the Glasgow Institute of Fine Art for a design for a terrace house.

Two years later, in 1890, by now working for the Honeyman and Keppie practice, his design for a public meeting hall won him the grand sum of £60, which was used to fund 3 months of sketching in Italy.

It was with Honeyman and Keppie, between 1900 and 1910, that Mackintosh would produce the designs and buildings which made him famous. Those that survive, (many have been demolished), such as the Glasgow School of Art, Hill House and the Scotland Street School are unique and outstanding.

Mackintoshs' attention to detail was legendary. Some modern writers have gone so far as to suggest that he may have been autistic. This would certainly explain his obsession with the minute details, and his difficulty with inter-personal relationships.

But the practical benefits for the occupants of a Mackintosh building were tangible. For the children of Scotland Street School, this included running the hot water pipes behind the coat hooks, so that wet school clothing (it has been know to rain occasionally in Glasgow), would be both warm and dry at the end of the school day.

Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh - a talented artist and designer in her own right

Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh - a talented
artist and designer in her own right

Because of these "difficulties", a Mackintosh led project was never a profitable one. By 1910 commissions at Honeyman and Keppie were drying up, and Mackintosh was getting pissed in the afternoons. In 1913 he resigned from the partnership and resolved to leave Glasgow.

In 1914 Mackintosh and his wife Margaret, settled in Walberswick, on the coast of Suffolk. They were forced to move shortly after the war broke out. Their strange accents, bohemian dress and letters from abroad, all marked the Mackintoshes out as spies. In 1915, they even had their house raided, on orders from the Foreign Office.

So, in 1915 they moved to Chelsea in London. Mackintosh continued to design, but because of the war, new commissions were extremely scarce and nothing he designed was built. Both he and Margaret, a talented designer in her own right, turned to textile design to pay the bills. But it wasn't enough. By the end of the war, Mackintosh was writing to friends in Scotland, begging them to buy his watercolours so that he could raise the money to pay rent.

A "practically valuess" Mackintosh chair

A "practically valuess" Mackintosh chair

In 1923, the Mackintoshes left London for Southern France. Here the warm climes and cheaper living suited them and Charles set his hand to watercolours, intending a London Exhibition.

He was a slow painter. Although he completed some 40 paintings, he never exhibited. In 1928, complaining that French tobacco blistered his mouth, he was diagnosed as having cancer of the tongue and throat.

He returned to London for treatment and never recovered. He is buried in Golders Green Crematorium, London, England.

The valuer of his estate described four of the chairs he designed as "practically valueless".

This year, 2002, saw one of his chairs fetch in excess of £150,000 at auction.

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