Making the Glasgow Style

By | Category: Travel destinations

This is the sub-title of the name of the new exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. The full title is Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Making the Glasgow Style.

When Mackintosh designed this poster, critics accused him of drawing humans on a gaspipe system!

But – to be honest – it isn’t just about Mackintosh. It is his name that might attract visitors to the exhibition but in truth it is about his companions as well in that exciting time for Glasgow at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

,True he was influential and people look at a design and can instantly say whether it is a Mackintosh or not. Or can they? There were some designs that I saw that were by friends or colleagues and I would have been hard pressed to swear they were by Mackintosh.

For those who think this is a brand new exhibition it isn’t. It opened at the Kelvingrove in Glasgow last year in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mackintosh’s birth. Now, until August, it has transferred to the Walker and that seems appropriate for it was at the Walker that Mackintosh’s drawings for a new cathedral in Liverpool were first displayed back in 1902. He didn’t win and the drawings were returned to the practice at which he worked in Glasgow.

furniture on display all designed by different people but in the “Glasgow style.”

Mackintosh has been in the news quite a bit over the last five years and all for the wrong reason. The Glasgow School of Art was where Mackintosh went as a fifteen year old and later, it was he who designed the new school. The two fires that have severely damaged the school have clearly damaged and, in some cases, destroyed some of his work.

This exhibition has 250 of his, and his companions in the Glasgow movement, work on display. If you go to the exhibition thinking you will just see Mackintosh’s work then you might be disappointed. But you shouldn’t be because some of the work created by other members of the group are just as interesting if not more so.

I was aware of Mackintosh but names like Talwin Morris – a designer at the publisher, Blackie and Co; Mary Begg and Dorothy Carleton Smyth meant nothing to me. But after seeing examples of the work they mean a lot more and deserve more name recognition amongst a wider public than I think they currently have. Mackintosh, his wife, Margaret and Margaret’s sister, Frances and her husband Herbert McNair combined to form an artistic group that was adept at design, painting, ceramics and textiles.

a Mackintosh design for a mural at the Buchanan St tearooms of Miss Cranston

Mackintosh is forever linked to tea rooms in Glasgow, those of Miss Cranston, who opened her first tea room in Argyll Street when Mackintosh was just ten years old. When she planned a tea shop in Buchanan Street in the mid 1890’s  and later Ingram Street, it was Mackintosh who designed the interior for her. His designs of everything from tea spoons to a toilet mirror have been copied many times since but originals can still be found. Only this week at an auction a teaspoon from one of Miss Cranston’s tea room and marked with her name will sell for over a couple of hundred pounds!

There are designs and furniture from Miss Cranston’s on display at the Walker. But she did more than have tearooms. Miss Cranston proved to be a supporter and patron of Mackintosh and his group and later asked him to be involved in revamping her house.

His short life – he died aged only 60 – was almost mirrored by his companions in the group. His wife, Margaret died a few years after, Morris died before him aged just 45 and another of the clan, Frances, died in 1921with her distraught husband destroying as much of her artistic output as he could find.

an early sketch by Mackintosh of a Persian carpet pattern

Mackintosh and his wife had left Glasgow for England in 1914, Miss Cranston began selling off her tea rooms after her husband died in 1917 and WWI seemed to herald an end to this multi-talented group although some work was done thereafter byt Mackintosh seems to have become more involved in watercolours. Some are on display but, for my money, it is his designs that have made his reputation.

For just a short few decades, the group flourished but the style they created has remained popular ever since. And for the uninitiated and for those who thought they knew Mackintosh (like me) then a trip to the Walker in Liverpool before August is a necessity to show that Mackintosh was just one of a talented group. 

a photograph, now a poster of the man who has come to be the face of the Glasgow style
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