Introduction

Opulent and modern, Art Nouveau was an international design and architectural phenomenon born in the 1890s. The name is French for “New Art,” and there were many regional and stylistic variants. The city of Glasgow—the ambitious industrial heartland of Scotland—was the crucible of the only Art Nouveau movement in Great Britain: the Glasgow Style.

Glasgow’s contribution to Art Nouveau was a distinctive design vocabulary that grew out of the Technical Studios of The Glasgow School of Art and the radically original work of many young artists embracing the intellectual and cultural freedoms of the time. At the center of the Glasgow Style was a tight-knit group known as The Four: architect, designer, and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh; his future wife, Margaret Macdonald; her younger sister, Frances; and Frances’s future husband, James Herbert McNair.

When applied to two-dimensional objects, such as books, needlework, posters, and stained glass, the Glasgow Style combined elongated and organic lines, personal symbolic languages, and favored motifs to create otherworldly stylized and decorative plant and human forms. In its three-dimensional manifestations—architecture, interiors, and furniture—it was distinguished by restraint, rhythm, and asymmetry. As the defining motifs of the Style evolved, such as roses and flying birds, a bolder use of color, geometry, and pattern emerged. Mackintosh was always at the forefront of the Glasgow Style’s development, simplifying ideas, lines, and forms to their essence, and working in innovative directions that anticipated the patterns and geometry of Art Deco.

This exhibition spans Mackintosh’s lifetime (1868–1928), presenting his architecture, design, and art in the context of his predecessors, contemporaries, patrons, and friends. It places his work in relation to the Glasgow Style and shows his unique and dramatic departure from it around 1903. The objects emphasize the process of making, the refinement of ideas, and the creation of innovative new design.

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