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Issue 27 - Big Mac

Scotland Magazine Issue 27
June 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Big Mac

With Scotland set to honour Charles Rennie Mackintosh with a major festival, Mark Nicholls looks at his legacy

Like so many creative talents, the true value of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work was not fully appreciated during his lifetime.

For the famed architect, artist and designer, it would be decades before his work began to have a major impact. And even then, it was a battle to preserve it with some of his buildings in Glasgow coming under threat of demolition as the regeneration of the city gained momentum in the 1960s and 1970s.

Fortunately, the buildings were retained as organisations such as the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society highlighted their architectural, cultural and aesthetic values.

Now the work of Mackintosh is renowned, lauded and regarded as a major asset to Glasgow and beyond. The buildings have many admirers, while his furniture and paintings are the inspiration for a new generation of artists and fetch ever soaring prices at auction.

Throughout this summer, reaching a climax in September, the life and work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh is being celebrated with the Glasgow Mackintosh Festival 2006. More than 100 events in 30 different locations have been lined up as Glasgow endeavours to showcase his work to an even wider audience.

Mackintosh (1868–1928) is celebrated around the world as one of the most creative figures of the early 20th century and his home city of Glasgow houses the pre-eminent collection of his buildings, drawings and designs.

Born one of 11 children in the Townhead area of the city close to Glasgow Cathedral, Mackintosh made his sublime mark on three types of architecture – public buildings, private houses and tea-rooms – with the majority of these existing within the city of Glasgow. Together with his wife Margaret Macdonald, her sister Frances, and Herbert McNair, ‘The Four,’ were responsible for laying the foundations of ‘the Glasgow style.’ His buildings are notable for the elegance and clarity of their spatial concepts, the skillful exploitation of natural and artificial lighting and detailing.

But he is also admired for his furniture and his painting, much of which can be seen at locations around the city.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is highly accessible in Glasgow.

Pamela Robertson, festival co-ordinator and senior curator and professor of Mackintosh Studies at the University of Glasgow, explains: “He is of outstanding importance: the fact that he was born, raised and worked principally in Glasgow and about 90 per cent of his work is here makes Glasgow the place to come if you are interested in Mackintosh.

“Part of the pleasure for the visitor is that it is not only about seeing collections in museums but it is about seeing his buildings in the cityscape.

“You can see Mackintosh in the context of what has been described as the finest Victorian city in Europe.

“Buildings such as The Glasgow School of Art and the Willow Tea Rooms still function with the same purpose Mackintosh intended them to have.” And while the solid red sandstone Scotland Street School may have closed as a school in 1979, it is still very much a learning centre for the city’s schoolchildren who come to re-enact life in a Victorian or wartime school with living lessons.

This year is appropriate to hold the Glasgow Mackintosh Festival as it is the centenary of the school and 100 years since the Mackintoshes moved into their new home at 6 Florentine Terrace. The principal interiors of that home have been meticulously reconstructed within the Mackintosh House at the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Art Gallery and feature his furniture and artwork.

It is also the 10th anniversary of the completion of House for An Art Lover, inspired by a Mackintosh portfolio of drawings from 1901.

One of the festival highlights includes a new gallery at the refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, with a permanent display on Mackintosh’s life and legacy through his art, design and architecture, alongside works of ‘The Four.’ The Kelvingrove reopens in July after a £27.9 million refurbishment.

Another element of the Mackintosh festival is Doves and Dreams at the Hunterian Art Gallery (August 12-November 18), devoted to Frances Macdonald and J. Herbert McNair. There is also public access to the rarely-seen Billiard Room at the fabulous Willow Tea Rooms, where you can still enjoy a cup of tea, cake and other food in the environment Mackintosh created, perhaps after taking a tour of the building considered his masterpiece, the nearby Glasgow School of Art.

There are also other walking tours, behind the scenes tours and lectures pencilled in for the festival.

Around Glasgow, there are several other Mackintosh buildings such as the Mackintosh Church, Martyr’s School (built on Parson Street where Mackintosh was born), the Daily Record Building and The Lighthouse, which is the former Glasgow Herald newspaper building partly designed by Mackintosh and is now the Centre for Architecture and Design including a gallery of his work.

A great way to see these is via the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Trail ticket (£12), which offers bus and subway fares plus admission to each.

Another way to get around Glasgow and get a feel for the city is aboard the open-top Glasgow City Sightseeing bus which tours the key sights and with a £9 ticket valid over two days you can hop on and off as often as you like.

The festival is focused on Mackintosh but Glasgow is a vibrant city with great pubs, bars and restaurants, lively nightlife, numerous museums and galleries, an historic cathedral, superb shopping and a regenerated River Clyde.

The city was once the home of shipbuilding but has made the transformation from industrial heartland into a cultural centre of world renown with a current phase of that being the Glasgow Harbour Project which will regenerate 130 acres of derelict Clyde waterfront.

Glasgow is promoting itself as Scotland with Style and the Mackintosh festival dovetails into that theme.

Professor Robertson adds: “The festival is a bold initiative by the city’s Mackintosh properties to celebrate for the first time Glasgow’s unique Mackintosh heritage across the city.

“Glasgow houses the most important buildings and artworks by Mackintosh anywhere in the world, and he is a figure of worldwide importance. The Glasgow Mackintosh Festival will enable us to place Glasgow’s Mackintosh heritage firmly on the global cultural map.

“Barcelona has Gaudi, Chicago has Frank Lloyd Wright, and Glasgow has Mackintosh. This year’s festival will celebrate that heritage and leave a lasting legacy for future generations.

“We do not want the festival to be a one-off but one that provides the impetus for extending the audience for Mackintosh.” While Mackintosh did not necessarily shape the face of Glasgow, he did give the city a dimension that now, years after his death, is being appreciated.

It is a dimension that was innovative, even provocative, but widely accepted as being way ahead of its time. His buildings make the most of natural light with windows rising up tall facades; the furnishings have long, fingery struts; he created decorative mirrors; made bold use of squares and stripes in the décor; and produced images that have inspired countless others since.

Professor Robertson says Mackintosh was not only a wonderful architect but a man who created iconic furniture and painted extraordinary watercolours.

Stuart Robertson, (no relation) is chief executive of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, formed in 1973 to help save his buildings that were under threat.

“Mackintosh was an individual, he did not conform, he was very much his own man. We have got 12 buildings scattered around the city and we are fortunate that they have survived.

What we would like to see come out of the festival is for people to have more knowledge and understanding of him,” he comments.

For those who admire the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh the summer festival is a unique opportunity to gain a greater insight into the architect, artist and designer.

For others who have been intrigued by his designs and styles, it will be an occasion to learn more about the life and times, the work and the buildings of Mackintosh and his contemporaries, in the city where he practised his art and where it continues to have a highly visible and relevant presence today.


Glasgow Mackintosh Festival 2006


Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society

Glasgow Harbour Project

Getting there:
Taking the train up the east coat of England is one of the most scenic routes into Scotland with GNER operating regular, direct services from London’s King’s Cross station to Glasgow. Journey time is about five-and-a-half hours. For ticket sales and reservations tel: +44 (0)8457 225 225 or visit