In April 2016, my husband and I visited Glasgow to attend the Réseau Art Nouveau Network (RANN) conference ‘The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors’. Continuing a series of blogs about my experiences in Glasgow, here’s what happened on Day 4…
Day 4 was scheduled to be a day full of administrative meetings. We decided to skip those meetings and visit some of the wonderful museums. Museums that you MUST SEE when in Glasgow.
We first went to visit the exceptional House for an Art Lover. And I say exceptional because it was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) in 1901, but it wasn’t built untill 1996, almost 80 years after Mackintosh’ death! As a matter of fact, most of Mackintosh’s more ambitious designs were never built. Yet while Mackintosh’s architectural output was small, he díd influence European design. Popular in Austria and Germany, his work received acclaim when it was shown at the Vienna Secession Exhibition in 1900. It was also exhibited in Budapest, Munich, Dresden, Venice and Moscow.
House for an Art Lover
In 1901 Mackintosh entered a competition to design a Haus eines Kunstfreundes or Art Lovers House set by the German interior design magazine Zeitschrift für Innendekoration.
The rules of the competition stated that only “genuinely original modern designs will be considered”. It went on to make the somewhat unusual proposition that “it is permissible and even desirable that an Architect and a Decorative Artist of modern tastes develop and submit the design jointly”, a situation which more than suited Mackintosh who worked on the project with his new wife, Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933).
The rules were comprehensive and included a specification of client requirements such as room sizes, position of staircases, external finishes and a maximum cost. Within these practical constraints, Mackintosh and Macdonald were able to exercise considerable freedom of design expression.
In the end, although Mackintosh was lauded for his competition design, his entry was disqualified on the grounds of a technical breach of the rules as he was late in submitting certain interior views of the house. The judges, however, were impressed by Mackintosh’s entry commending it for its distinctive colouring, impressive design and cohesiveness of inner and outer construction.
Hermann Muthesius, a leading architecture critic of the day, praised the design saying “…it exhibits an absolutely original character, unlike anything else known. In it we shall not find a trace of the conventional forms of architecture to which the artist, as far as his present intentions were concerned, was quite indifferent.”
For more than 85 years Mackintosh’ concept remained merely that, an unrealised design on paper. Until, in 1989, Graham Roxburgh, the Consulting Engineer responsible for restoring Mackintosh interiors in nearby Craigie Hall, had the idea to finally build the House for an Art Lover.
The drawings which Mackintosh produced, although very detailed for a competition entry, were not intended as technical plans from which an actual house would be built and the task of interpreting and turning them into reality was the challenge which faced Roxburgh’s team of architects, led by Professor Andy MacMillan, then Head of Architecture at Mackintosh’s world-renowned Glasgow School of Art.
It was nice to be able to take pictures of everything in this museum. But I also remember feeling a bit weird knowing that Mackintosh had never actually seen the house himself. Somehow, it was tangible that nothing was old. I mean, a genuine 100-year-old old. The colours were a bit too bright and the paint was a bit too fresh… yet it was all meticulously well done. And above all, it was beautiful! So, if you get the chance, make the trip to Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, and soak up the atmosphere. And imagine this was designed more than 115 years ago; it must have been jaw-droppingly alien. Mackintosh was way ahead of his time!
For the other original drawings for House for an Art Lover, click here.
Mackintosh House at the Hunterian Art Gallery
Next, we went to the Hunterian Art Gallery, as we wanted to see how Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his artist-wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh had lived themselves. The Mackintosh House is a meticulous reassemblage of the orignal interiors from the Mackintoshes’ Glasgow home. The couple lived at 78 Southpark Avenue (originally 6 Florentine Terrace) from 1906 to 1914. The house was demolished in the early 1960s but the original fixtures were preserved and reassembled, complete with the contents, as an integral part of the Hunterian Art Gallery.
As it was strictly forbidden to take pictures inside this museum, I have borrowed this 20-year-old video from the Glasgow Museum Collection so you can nonetheless get an impression of the interior.
The interior of the house felt much less like a museum than House for an Art Lover. I felt the urge to sit down on the plush white carpet, lie down on my back on the floor actually, and inhale the atmosphere. This was Mackintosh’s house. Yet, we weren’t alone. The rooms were small and there was an attendant in every single one of them. So, no daydreaming on Margaret and Charles’ livingroom floor for me this time…
Kelvingrove Art Gallery
From the Hunterian it wasn’t very far to walk to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery, where the Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style Gallery features furniture, decorative panels and light fittings from the Ingram Street Tearooms, designed by Mackintosh in 1900-1912. But the gallery also displays work of many other Glasgow artists.
In 1841, the British government started making an effort to improve commercial design. They set up Schools of Design in key industrial cities, such as Glasgow. The goal of the Glasgow School of Art was to produce a highly skilled workforce good at original design. Tradesmen, from shopkeepers to blacksmiths, could get grants to attend evening classes while middle-class women paid fees for day school tuition in art, craft and needlework. And from this fascinating mix of people the Glasgow Style emerged…
Attitudes to interior design changed fundamentally. The dark colours and conflicting patterns preferred by the Victorians were lightened and simplified. Cluttered rooms of clashing furniture styles from different periods became a thing of the past. The new concept was unity and simplicity, influenced by Japanese art as well as by Britain’s medieval art. And that is exáctly what the Kelvingrove Art Gallery shows.
Being in Glasgow to attend a conference called ‘The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors’, today was a perfect day. We saw a lot of interiors, we learned a lot about those interiors, and we sure enjoyed the Scottish interiors a lot too!
Now, after a long day’s work (visiting 3 fantastic museums), you can imagine we were famished. And what better place to sit down for a burger with fries and a pint than the Brewdog right across from the Kelvingrove Art Gallery? Cheers!
Charles Rennie Mackintosh – wikipage
Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society
Glasgow School of Art – photographic tour
Glasgow School of Art – wikipage
Glasgow School of Art – The Guardian Chronologic timeline
House for an Art Lover
House for an Art Lover – offical website
Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery
The Conservation of Historic Interiors – Glasgow, Scotland and Europe
The Conservation of Art Nouveau Interiors Symposium 2016
Reseau Art Nouveau Network
Willow Tea Rooms
The Willow Tea Rooms Trust