Socialist Worker

A stylish tribute to Glasgow’s Mackintosh

by Dave Sherry
Issue No. 2614

Glasgow School of Art

Glasgow School of Art (Pic: Chris Downer/

A new exhibition displays Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work. Dave Sherry looks at the life of the artist who defined Glasgow’s unique look

It’s 150 years since the birth of Glasgow’s renowned architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The city’s museums have marked the ocassion with a stunning exhibition.

Based on new research this exhibition includes many items not seen for a generation or more.

The displays of furniture, ceramics, stained glass, metalwork, embroidery, graphics books and interiors let visitors revel in the creativity of Mackintosh and the artists he worked with.

His work was influential at a time when Glasgow became a key centre of the Art Nouveau movement.

As a decorator and designer Mackintosh was acclaimed at major exhibitions in Turin and Vienna in 1900.

His architectural influence became strong in Austria and Germany.

In 1902 German Modernist Architect Hermann Muthesius wrote after his visit to the UK,

“Those who want to see art should bypass London and go straight to Glasgow,” he wrote.

“Glasgow’s take on art is unique. In architecture it is a new, young city.”


Glasgow has many fine Mackintosh buildings and his enduring masterpiece—the Glasgow School of Art—was voted “Britain’s favourite building of the last 175 years”.

Sadly it was ravaged by fire four years ago and its great library was destroyed.

This June, a year before its restoration was due to be completed, the Mackintosh was again gutted by fire.

Mackintosh was ignored in his own land until almost 50 years after his death, despite being far ahead of his time with many of his designs. Mackintosh was a creative genius, influenced by Japanese art and up for the challenge of combining art and craft with the machine age.

By the end of the 19th century Glasgow had become an industrial powerhouse.

It produced the most innovative ships, locomotives and textiles in the world. Much of this stemmed from the coupling of science and art.

This process fed into Mackintosh’s art. He developed his ideas from this spirit of innovation and collaborative creativity.

His talents were nurtured at the Glasgow School of Art, where as a trainee draughtsman and architect he attended night classes after work.


His productive collaboration with other artists and craft makers inspired his architectural imagination and saw the emergence of the Glasgow Style in the late 1890s.

It was the birthplace of the only Art Nouveau movement in Britain and its distinctive approach to design and craft won international acclaim.

Mackintosh was a key figure in this.

He turned his back on commercial architecture when he became disenchanted with the business side of his profession.

In 1914 he and his wife Margaret moved to Suffolk where, because of his internationalist outlook, he was accused of being a German spy and was briefly imprisoned.

This retrospective is a fitting tribute to an artist who, a century and a half after his birth, still manages toinspire a fresh audience.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh—making the Glasgow Style

Until 14 August at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Argyle Street, Glasgow G3 8AG

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