Friday, December 4, 2009

Designer(s) of the Month: Charles Rennie Mackintosh & Margaret Macdonald

How in the world is it December already? Thanksgiving was wonderful but it completely threw me off, so much so that I didn't remember that my rent was due until it was already the first of the month. That's ok though, because December is generally a good month all around. First there's my birthday (on Monday!) and then Hanukkah, I get an entire 2 weeks off from work with the 18th as my last full day, there's Christmas with Patrick's family, I get to go down to Florida to visit my family, and to round it all off, we get a whole new year at the end of it. To celebrate all of these good things, I'm making December's Designer(s) of the Month one of my very favorite husband and wife design teams, and certainly my favorite Scottish design couple, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) and Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933).[1] I learned about Mackintosh and Macdonald during my first year of grad school, in my survey of decorative arts class, and yes, my friends, it was definitely love at first sight.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, 1893. © Annan Gallery. Courtesy of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.

Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, c. 1905. Courtesy of the Charles Rennie Macintosh Society. She is seated in front of a white painted desk designed by Mackintosh in 1900, which is enriched with silvered copper panels that were probably worked by Macdonald herself.[2]

The Mackintosh/Macdonalds are one of those design teams, like Russel & Mary Wright and Josef & Anni Albers, whose innovative designs helped define a distinctive style. The Wrights were associated with industrial design and the concept of "easier living," the Albers epitomized the Bauhaus style and concept of "form follows function," and the Mackintosh/Macdonalds helped to develop and gain recognition for what would come to be known as the "Glasgow Style."[3] I've always thought of the Glasgow Style as a sort of mash-up of the Vienna Secessionist, Arts & Crafts and Art Nouveau styles into something very distinctive and very much their own, which makes sense considering the time period in which these guys were working in. Together with James Herbert McNair and Frances Macdonald (who was both James's husband and Margaret's sister), this group came to be known collectively as "The Four," producing innovative and at times controversial graphics and decorative art designs, publishing their work in the decorative and applied arts magazine The Studio.[4] The artists met as young students at the Glasgow School of Art in the mid 1890s; Mackintosh and McNair were close friends and fellow apprentice architects in the Glasgow practice of Honeyman and Keppie, and the Macdonald sisters were day students at the Glasgow School of Art.[5]
Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Washstand, 1904. Oak, ceramic tile, colored and mirror glass, and lead. 63 1/4 x 51 1/4 x 20 3/8 in. (160.7 x 130.2 x 51.8 cm). Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1994 (1994.120). Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The above washstand gives you a pretty good idea of the style of work that this couple produced. Isn't it gorgeous? One of the great things about Mackintosh and Macdonald was that they created so many different types of work, and nowhere can you see this better than in their designs for buildings and interiors. These designs incorporated not only architecture, but the art and furniture that were to go into the buildings as well. This month, I want to focus on my three favorite, and what I think of as the most significant, Mackintosh and Macdonald works: the Glasgow School of Art (Week 2), Hill House (Week 3) and the Willow Tea Rooms (Week 4).

[1] Charles Rennie Macintosh Society online, "Charles Rennie Mackintosh," "Margaret Macdonald," (accessed December 2, 2009).

[2] Elizabeth Wilhide, "The Four," The Mackintosh Style: Design and Decor (San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1995), 22.

[3] Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society online, "The Four - Mackintosh and his contemporaries," (accessed December 2, 2009).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

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