27 May 2017

Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) was one of the most significant figures in the history of Arts & Crafts Furniture, and a major influence on the Art Nouveau movement. A talented architect, designer and artist, he was central to the development of the Glasgow Style of design. He had few clients, yet his distinctive stained glass panels elegant Victorian dining chairs are known the world over.

Mackintosh was apprenticed to architects Honeyman and Keppie in 1889, also studying at the Glasgow School of Art. His first major architectural commission was the Glasgow Herald Building (1894), which showed amazing innovation and maturity.

Antique bookcases and the Glasgow School

Mackintosh believed that designers and architects should have freedom of expression, and began experimenting with design, aided by his friends Herbert MacNair and Frances and Margaret Macdonald (who he later married). Dubbed the Spook School, they established the Glasgow Style.

In 1896 Mackintosh, was awarded a major commission to design a new wing for the Glasgow School of Art. Constructed in two stages, it was Mackintosh’s most important work, containing baronial Scottish, rustic Japanese and many other elements. The Library is a complex geometry of timber posts and beams, complemented by dark slender antique bookcases and elegantly pierced chairs.

The Victorian dining chairs of the Cranston tearooms

Mackintosh’s best-known works were for Catherine Cranston, who commissioned him for her tearooms between 1896 and 1917. He was allowed complete freedom of expression, providing everything from the light fittings to the cutlery. The dramatic high-backed Victorian dining chairs, so prized by Lancashire collectors, are still copied by designers today.

Another important commission was Hill House, for publisher Walter Blackie. However, Mackintosh had only a few patrons, his ethic of total design making him unpopular with clients. His last public commission was a Glasgow school, in 1906. Further work followed, but it was largely met with indifference.

Mackintosh moved to London, where he began working in a bold new abstract style. However, it largely went unnoticed. Today, of course, his genius is recognised, and in Cumbria his antique dining tables and elegant chairs sell for many thousands of pounds.

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