Glasgow: 150 years of Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Posted on November 15, 2018 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

glasgow

glasgow

 

The first stop of my three-week trip in Scotland this summer was Glasgow. Although the city is not as glamourous as Edinburgh, I tend to have a bias towards Glasgow, partly because of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and partly because of its friendly residents.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, hecne, there are numerous exhibitions and events celebrating the legacy of Glasgow's cultural icon. Sadly, Mackintosh’s masterpiece Glasgow School of Art caught fire for the second time in June leaving just a burnt-out shell. I never did get to see the original school because my first visit to Glasgow was 2015, a year after the first devasting fire. That year, I did a tour of the new building and saw the furniture rescued from the old building (see my blog entry here). This year, however, the entire area was sealed off to the public, and I only managed to get a glimpse of the site from afar. Walking outside of the barricade made my heart sink, and like many others, I had a lot of questions in my head. Though judging from the extensive damage, it seems unlikely that the building could be rebuild again.

 

glasgow school of art

glasgow school of art

 

Since I was only in the city for 1 night, my focus was solely on Mackinstosh. I first went to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to see the Mackinstosh exhibition featuring more than 250 objects from the Glasgow Museums collection and Mitchell Library archives, alongside key loans from The Hunterian, Glasgow School of Art, the V&A and private lenders.

The exhibition showcased stained glass, ceramics, mosaics, metalwork, furniture, textiles, stencilling, needlework and embroidery, posters, books and architectural drawings. Some of the works have never been on display and the majority – like the wall from Miss Cranston’s Ingram Street Tea Rooms – have not been shown for over 30 years. I wished I had more time to linger at the exhibition, but I was also grateful that I got to see this extensive exhibition on the works of a genius. Since no photography was allowed, I bought the exhibition catalogue instead.

 

kelvingrove

kelvingrove

kelvingrove

kelvingrove  kelvingrove

 

The following morning, I went to the newly restored Mackintosh at The Willow to have breakfast. Originally named the Willow Tea Rooms, the premise is the only surviving tea room designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. The tea room was part of a long working relationship with local tea entrepreneur Miss Kate Cranston. Between 1896 and 1917 he designed and re-styled interiors in all four of her Glasgow tearooms, in collaboration with his wife Margaret Macdonald. Opened in 1903 at 217 Sauchiehall Street, the Art Nouveau tea room gained immense popularity and became famous for its afternoon teas, but it was sold in 1917 after the death of Miss Kate Cranston's husband.

Over the years and through various changes of ownerships, the building had deteriorated until it was purchased in 2014 by The Willow Tea Rooms Trust in order to prevent the forced sale of the building, closure of the Tea Rooms and loss of its contents to collectors. When I visited the premise in 2015, it was in a rather somber state, so I was eager to see the newly restored building after four years of restoration which costed t £10 million. The project was a collaboration between Willow Tea Rooms Trust, Doig & Smith, Simpson & Brown and Clark Contracts . The Tea Rooms are also operated as a social enterprise with the objectives of creating training, learning, employment and other opportunities and support for young people and communities.

 

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

 

Even as I walked past the three story building the day before, I was thrilled to see the beautiful facade featuring the restored black leaded glass frames and decorative ornaments. Since Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a key figure in the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement, this building epitomised the essence of the ‘The Glasgow Style', which was highly influenced by Japanese design.

 

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow

 

To be honest, I wasn't so concerned about the food, as it wasn't the purpose of my visit. I was simply happy to be sitting in a Mackintosh-designed tea room that showcases his furniture, sculpted plasterwork wall panels, railings and fixtures. The attention to detail is immaculate and I salute the team behind the project for their efforts in bringing Mackinstosh's designs back to its full glory.

During my visit, the tea room was at a phased opening stage, so tours of the building was not yet available and not all areas of the building were opened to the public. Hence I shall have to join a tour of the building when I return to Glasgow next time.

 

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow   Mackintosh at the Willow

 

After breakfast, I walked over to the Glasgow Art Club, a lesser-known building with designs by Mackintosh at the age of 25 when he was employed as a draughtsman by architects Honeyman & Keppie. Mackintosh was responsible for the design of many of the internal features of the Club including the frieze in the Gallery.

Opened in 1893 at Bath Street, The Glasgow Art Club was founded in 1867 by William Dennistoun, a young amateur artist who had been forced by ill health to leave the city. It started as a meeting place for amateur painters to discuss their works, but soon membership grew with more professional artists joining, resulting in two town houses being bought to accommodate all the members.

From the outside, there is nothing special about the building, and even inside, the club does not look different from most Victorian gentlemen's clubs.

 

Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club  Glasgow Art Club

 

Yet the secret lies at the back of the ground floor. The bright and spacious gallery is vastly different from the rooms at the front, and you can certainly apprecaite the magic touch of Mackintosh here. The gallery showcases Mackintosh’s earliest work: frieze, decorative panels, feature fireplaces abd brass finger plates. Painted in 1893, the frieze's stenciled artwork was Mackintosh's first major public work, but due to water damage it was eventually plastered and painted over. Recently, experts in the work of Mackintosh, collaborated with a notable Scottish artist and a firm specialising in restoration work recreated the frieze and thus the public can now view this beautiful work at the club. The gallery walls also display original artwork by members of the Club which are part of an ever changing programme of exhibitions.

Although the club is a private one, it does offer regular tours that are bookable by appointment. Since I couldn't join the tour, I walked in and asked if I could view the gallery, and the receptionist kindly let me in. This is definitely a hidden gem in the city, and I am sure many Mackintosh enthusiasts would appreciate the restoration works being done here.

Ironically, Mackintosh's innovative styles were not greatly appreciated during his lifetime, yet 150 years after his birth, his name is drawing millions of visitors from around the world to Glasgow. All I can say is that: it is better late than never.

 

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

Glasgow Art Club

 

 


This post was posted in Food & dining, Exhibitions, Architecture, British design, Architectural conservation, Designers & artists, Design, British heritage, Britain and was tagged with architecture, British design, heritage, Scotland, art nouveau architecture, Glasgow, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, arts & crafts movements, Scottish design, The Glasgow art club, Mackintosh at The Willow

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