Charles Rennie Mackintosh 150th anniversary.
To celebrate the 150th birthday of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, I took off on a whirlwind sightseeing tour of Glasgow, to visit locations connected to the city’s home grown creative genius. Fancy getting involved in Mackintosh mania? Read on for inspiration.
I have recently developed a crush on an unattainable man. He is smoulderingly handsome, totally vintage, and his creative talents are like no other. His name is Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and he is an absolute dream boat. Before you judge, it’s not like I’ve just discovered Rennie Mackintosh.
As with many others, I’ve been familiar with his classic rose-embellished designs since I was a child. Admittedly though, I knew very little of the man himself or the extent of his influence; both on Glasgow, and on the worlds of architecture & art.
Since looking into his kind eyes in a photograph, and touring the many sites where he has left an indelible mark, I have a new-found appreciation (and adoration) for the man I affectionately refer to as Charlie.
The Life of Rennie Mackintosh (a wee snapshot).
On the 7th June 1868, a wee boy called Charles was born to a working-class family in Glasgow. No one could have predicted that his name would come to be known worldwide, and long into future.
It was clear that Charlie was no ordinary young man. His creative talents were nurtured during his apprenticeship at Honeyman & Keppie and while taking night classes at Glasgow School of Art; it was here that he and his colleague Herbert McNair met Frances and Margaret Macdonald. Together, they were a match made in creative heaven, and the group became known as ‘the Four’, who were famed for establishing ‘The Glasgow Style’. Both couples fell in love, and were married.
Mackintosh was an innovator. His style was distinctive, and way ahead of its time. His work is characterised by contrasts and paradoxes; masculinity and femininity, bold lines and delicate details, and modern designs which blatantly did not reflect the era. That’s what made him so special.
As with so many creative, literary and intellectual geniuses throughout history, Mackintosh’s work wasn’t fully appreciated during his lifetime, and least of all in his home town of Glasgow. In fact, he received far more recognition in Germany and Austria. He suffered financial struggles, alcoholism and depression, and was eventually convinced by Margaret to relocate. They lived in Suffolk, France and London, and he dedicated his late years to watercolour paintings. He died in London in 1928.
Almost a century has passed, and he has left behind such a remarkably visible and sentimental legacy. His creative influence is woven through the streets of Glasgow, and into the hearts and minds of its people.
Where to Find Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow.
1. The Lighthouse
11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU
The Lighthouse was Mackintosh’s first public commission and the building was the Glasgow Herald newspaper HQ from 1895 to 1980. It was later opened as the Centre for Architecture, Design and the City in July 1999. The Mackintosh Interpretation Centre is a permanent exhibition with various visual displays, videos and texts about Mackintosh’s career, and his work on The Lighthouse. I loved the quirky helical staircase up to the tower, and the bonnie vista of Glasgow’s skyline at the top.
Mackintosh fans are in for an extra treat as the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) are exhibiting The Hill House at The Lighthouse. The Hill House in Helensburgh was designed by Mackintosh for the publisher Walter Blackie between 1902 and 1904. The building has been battered by the Scottish elements, sustaining damage to the exterior. To restore the property, the NTS have covered the house is a mesh box to dry it out, and are displaying the interior at The Lighthouse. Cool, eh?
- For more info check out The Lighthouse website
2. Scotland Street School Museum
Scotland St, Glasgow G5 8QB
Scotland Street School was the last stand-alone building that Mackintosh designed for the city of Glasgow. The school was open from 1906 – 1979 and educated children from the south side of Glasgow. I think it’s amazing that a humble, public school was designed by such a legend! If you didn’t know it was the work of Mackintosh, or you’re not a hardcore fan, you might not notice straight away. Once you’ve taken a closer look however, the stone and glass features and linear details are a dead giveaway that the master has been at work.
The interior is flooded with natural light from the statement glass towers. Stepping inside, I was walloped by a wave of nostalgia. I was immediately struck by memories of my own primary school days, triggered by the sterile smell of the corridors and the rows of hooks in the cloakroom. Looking up at the clock on the wall, I could sense the anticipation of the bell ringing at break time, and the herds of children eagerly running down the corridors. I almost expected to walk into a dinner room serving potato smileys and lumpy custard.
Aside from its famous connection to Mackintosh, the museum is a fun and evocative walk down memory lane; from the old classrooms and home economics room to hopscotch in the corridors.
- For more information visit the Glasgow Life website
3. Mackintosh at the Willow
215 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow G2 3EX
At the turn of the 20th century, Glasgow entrepreneur Kate Cranston opened four super-successful and highly fashionable Glasgow Tea Rooms at the turn of the 20th century. The ‘Willow Tea Room’ as it was then known, was designed inside and out by Mackintosh, and opened its doors in 1903. The colours are modern by today’s standard, and each floor brings a new and unique visual spectacle.
The building was purchased in 2014, and is now solely within the care of the registered charity The Willow Tea Rooms Trust, founded by Celia Sinclair. The trust – which is funded by the Heritage Lottery – is responsible for restoring and preserving this treasured gem. It is the most complete example of Mackintosh’s work and it is has opened its doors once again as a Tea Room. Wait until you see inside!
Amazingly, many of the original features have survived the decades. The ornate freeze walls on the ground floor were hidden behind panels in the jewellers which was housed in the building for years. Mackintosh’s original design was revealed when the panels were removed. The many glass panels in the Salon de Luxe, and the replica chandelier are not to be missed.
The teams involved in the restoration haven’t cut any corners, and where the features are not original, they have been painstakingly crafted to reflect Mackintosh’s design. As well as the Tea Room, the building also houses a shop and an exhibition which I missed the opening of by a day. A return visit is imminent!
The whole experience was a treat, from the gorgeous aesthetics to the delicious Afternoon Tea itself. Massive praise to Celia and her team for setting up the trust and kick-starting the meticulous four-year restoration. Celia has said the building is “like a living, breathing museum” and she’s spot on. This is an absolute must when in Glasgow, whether a Mackintosh fan or not.
- For more information visit the Mackintosh at the Willow website
- You can also read about the Willow Tea Rooms Trust here
4. The Mackintosh House, The Hunterian.
82 Hillhead St, Glasgow G12 8QQ
The Mackintosh House is a permanent display at The Hunterian Art Gallery. There are various examples of Mackintosh commissions in and around the city, however this attraction differs in that it offers a glimpse into what home-sweet-home looked like for the Mackintoshes themselves. Though it is not the exact house they lived in, it was located very closely nearby and the views were almost the same. Before the house was demolished, the interiors and furnishings were carefully preserved and stored, until they were skilfully reassembled in the new location to ensure that the interiors reflect the original house.
Initially, I was freaked out by the cream carpets and insanely orderly furnishings. I had visions of a large glass of red wine being spilled across the carpet or a dog with mucky paws bounding around on top of the furniture. Once I got over this, I just found it incredible that such modern and minimalist interiors existed just shy of the Victorian era, which was characterised by flamboyance and elaborate designs. This is exactly why Mackintosh is such a celebrated artist; he was truly unique and way ahead of his time.
- Photos are not permitted in Mackintosh House
- For more information visit the Glasgow Life website
5. House for an Art Lover
10 Dumbreck Rd, Glasgow G41 5BW
In 1901, Mackintosh entered a competition in German magazine to create a unique and original ‘Art Lovers House’. Though he was highly praised for his entry, he was disqualified due to the late submission of some drawings. Disappointing? Aye! His work would not be wasted, however.
Over 80 years later, a team of architects got together to bring Mackintosh’s design to life, and create a space for lovers of art. The teams worked from the original drawings, and when they came across gaps, they studied Mackintosh’s other designs and interiors to create the same look and authenticity. The result is absolutely beautiful.
House for an Art Lover is set in Bellahouston Park, one of the Glasgow’s glorious green spaces, within close reach of the busy city centre. The stunning space is used for events and exhibitions; it was set out for a wedding during my visit, and it was indescribably bonnie.
I enjoyed lunch in the Art Lovers Café, and it was a rather indulgent affair. The scallop, black pudding and chorizo salad was delicious, as was the warm white chocolate and raspberry scone. I obviously had to sample the Mackintosh gin cocktail as well – for research purposes only.
- For more information visit the House for an Art Lover website
6. Mackintosh Church
870 Garscube Rd, Glasgow G20 7EL
Queens Cross Church was commissioned in 1896 and was completed three years later. It is the one and only church designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and is therefore known as the Mackintosh Church. In Mackintosh’s standard, daringly-different approach, even the church spire is unlike any other. Inside, Mackintosh’s signature style can be seen in the centrepiece blue, heart-shaped, stained glass window, which I was sadly unable to see for myself as there was a wedding on in the church during my visit. I will be returning for a look inside some time in future.
- For more information visit the Mackintosh Church website
7. The Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery
Argyle St, Glasgow G3 8AG
The Kelvingrove is a gem of a place, no matter what your motivation is to visit. Fans of the legend himself should make a beeline for the Mackintosh exhibition, but also leave time to explore the rest of the museum’s wonders. The exhibition displays panelling and furnishings from the Ingram Street Tearoom, designed by Mackintosh for Kate Cranston and restored by the Glasgow Museum’s Conservation team. The panelling showcases Margaret Mackintosh’s intricate embroidery; she was also incredibly talented and (I believe) contributed more to Mackintosh’s interiors than what she is given credit for. Controversial!
- For more information visit the Glasgow Life website
8. Gordon Street Coffee
Glasgow Central Station, 79 Gordon Street Glasgow G1 3SQ
Those who like Charlie and coffee, can indulge in a novelty tribute of the local legend, courtesy of Gordon Street Coffee. The high footfall establishment, which sits at the Gordon Street entrance to Central Station has created a special Charles Rennie Mackintosh blend to mark the 150th anniversary. They even hired a Charlie lookalike for a photoshoot to celebrate the launch of the blend! The coffee is described as having a “smooth chocolatey taste with delicious notes of red cherries and walnuts”. My Mackintosh latte was a most pleasant way to fuel my day of Mackintosh mania across Glasgow.
- Read more about Gordon Street Coffee here
9. Charles Rennie Mackintosh Mural
The Clutha Bar, 159 Bridgegate, Glasgow G1 5HZ
What better way to commemorate the talents of Mackintosh, than with the modern style of art which Glasgow wears so well? Radisson RED commissioned local street artist Rogue-One and Art Pistol Projects to create a Mackintosh mural, and his lovely face is now emblazoned above The Clutha Bar, and can be seen from quite a distance. The mural is a beautiful, contemporary tribute which captures both the handsome features, and the design style of my Charlie.
10. Glasgow School of Art – a special mention.
Glasgow School of Art was hugely significant in Mackintosh’s life and career, both as his place of study and as his first major commission. The Mackintosh Building, which was constructed between 1896-1909, is described as ‘Mackintosh’s masterpiece’, and his greatest design. In June 2018, the building was ravaged by fire – for the second time after 2014 – and it has been a tremendously sad loss to the city. There are plans to rebuild the school using Mackintosh’s original blueprints, though it’s thought this will take up to seven years. It think it’ll be quite an emotional occasion for the people of Glasgow when the building reopens in future.
As well as the sites listed above, there are a number of Mackintosh 150 events, exhibitions, talks and workshops across the city and beyond. For the full programme of events, please visit the People Make Glasgow Mackintosh150 webpage.