Charles Rennie Mackintosh - Making the Glasgow Style | Walker Art Gallery

I’m somebody whose only prior knowledge of Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a font and a fire, prior to attending this show. So, wandering the galleries, I found it all simply revelatory.

While the notes claim the Scottish polymath as the “father of Modernism”, which seems steep, the works on show at the Walker Art Gallery do a great job at lining Mackintosh up in a heritage extending across the continent to Symbolism and the Secession.

installation view

The Glasgow Style is sometimes lumped in with Art Nouveau, too. And, to complicate the lineage still further, their artists, Mackintosh preeminent among them, are bracketed with their pre-Raphaelite precursors. On top of this, the show persuasively points out the group’s influences from the East.

I’m thinking specifically of the sensitive and eyeopening reproductions of the tearooms run by a Catherine Cranston, a local businesswoman. These designs become increasingly radical, and rectilinear, as the 20th century gets into its stride. They could be straight out of a Hokusai woodblock print.

Also included in the exhibits are works from Mackintosh’s circle: Talwyn Morris, with his more abstracted less adorned style, and James Herbert McNair, Mackintosh’s partner architect.

From Mackintosh himself, there are gorgeous videos of his (few) completed buildings, including the doomed Glasgow School of Art and the Hatrack, a proto-Skyscraper. Such ambition and artistry in those dark stones!

One of the saddest revelations for me from the show was Mackintosh’s financial failure as an architect. He was eventually drummed out of his practice for not bringing in enough work, having tried and failed in competitions including a (stunning) design for Liverpool’s Protestant Cathedral.

Of course, that commission eventually went to Gilbert Scott, also architect of the Bankside Power Station - now Tate Modern - as well as the K2 telephone box. This show makes the case for Mackintosh as a similarly proficient creator of 20th century icons.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Making the Glasgow Style is at Walker Art Gallery (Liverpool). March 15 - August 26 2019