The long hair, soft felt hats and big bow ties of the men; the Aesthetic attire of the damsels, and the flat japanned boxes of both proclaim them Art Students.

—Anonymous author Glasgow Evening Times, November 1894

By the end of 1893, several events had ignited the Glasgow Style: a new British art magazine, The Studio, created ripples internationally with the publication of drawings by Aubrey Beardsley; The Glasgow School of Art opened its Technical Art Studios; and the Glasgow publisher Blackie & Son hired the English illustrator Talwin Morris to be its art director.

At this time Mackintosh and James Herbert McNair were friends and fellow draftsmen at the architectural firm of Honeyman & Keppie, and both were evening students at The Glasgow School of Art. Sometime in 1893 they were introduced, probably by Francis Newbery, to day students and sisters Frances and Margaret Macdonald. This was a meeting of minds, and The Four, as they would be known, became part of an artistic social circle nicknamed The Immortals. Their youthful joy and rebelliousness sparked artistic dialogue through exciting, progressive, and changing times.

The Glasgow School of Art’s Art Club, founded in 1889 by Francis Newbery, encouraged free thinking and creativity as a respite from the rigorous curriculum of art instruction. Its annual exhibitions gave The Four’s radical imaginations their first public airing. The manifesto of their new style, however, was forged through The Four’s revolutionary poster designs, bold graphics employing an emphatic placement of lines and forms that proportionally subdivide each picture’s surface both vertically and horizontally. Taut linear treatment, elongated human figures, stylized hybrid plant/human forms, a slight asymmetry, and enigmatic symbols would become the defining characteristics of the Glasgow Style.

Nineteenth-Century New Wave

According to [James Herbert] MacNair himself, Mackintosh first became interested in experimental design when, as apprentice to [the architect] John Honeyman, he was thrown back upon his own resources during periods of idleness in the office. On such occasions he used to take illustrations of objects which interested him—chairs for example—place tracing paper over them and try to improve on the original design, or better still, to evolve entirely new forms of his own invention. . . . It was from such beginnings, born of a profound dissatisfaction with the existing order of things, that the so-called Glasgow Style—the Mackintosh style—emerged.

—Thomas Howarth Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Modern Movement, 1952

This quotation from an interview conducted in the 1940s between James Herbert MacNair (the spelling of McNair’s surname changed after marriage) and Thomas Howarth, a doctoral student at the University of Glasgow, sheds important light on MacNair’s and Mackintosh’s modernizing attitude and youthful design experiments in the early 1890s.

Salomé: J’ai baisé ta bouche, 1893
Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898)
In Joseph Pennell, “A New Illustrator—Aubrey Beardsley,” a feature in The Studio 1, April 1893
Leather-bound hardcover, first edition
Glasgow Museums: Bought by subscription, GML.2017.1

The first issue of The Studio magazine showcased Aubrey Beardsley’s strikingly original black-and-white drawings and brought him widespread attention. His radically stylized illustrations drew inspiration from pictorial devices found in Japanese art and design: sinuous lines, simplification of forms, patterned surfaces, and dramatic use of negative space. Salomé (on the right page) was Beardsley’s response to the banned play of the same title by Oscar Wilde. Originally written in French and based on the biblical story, the play combines themes of sensuality and death. Beardsley depicts the moment when Salomé is about to kiss Iokanaan (John the Baptist), whose severed head she holds in her hand. The overlapping circles and fine lined forms in the upper left are peacock feathers—a favorite motif of the then popular Aesthetic Movement and later in Art Nouveau. Beardsley’s work had a profound influence on young Glasgow artists.

The Yellow Book, volume 1, April 1894
Cover designed by Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898)
Published by Mathews and Lane
Printed hardcover, first edition
Private collection

The Yellow Book was a quarterly compendium of essays and art launched in April 1894. Its young art editor, Aubrey Beardsley, designed the cover and gave the pages a spacious layout and modern graphic style. Beardsley was dismissed from his position in 1895 because of his association with Oscar Wilde. In July 1896 volume 10 of the avant-garde journal featured six watercolors and pastel drawings by the Macdonald sisters and James Herbert McNair.

In Memoriam—Senex, 1894
Talwin Morris (1865–1911)
Ink on paper, stained wood, and card
Glasgow Museums: Given by Mrs. Alice Talwin Morris, 1946, PR.1977.13.s (drawing); E.1946.5.n (frame)

Talwin Morris made this drawing in memory of his beloved cat. The work clearly shows the influence of Aubrey Beardsley. Morris would have been familiar with Beardsley’s work from when he was working as an illustrator in London in the early 1890s. In May 1893 Morris was appointed the art director for the Glasgow publisher Blackie & Son, and following the move to Scotland, he and his wife, Alice, soon became good friends of The Four. Morris can be regarded as the fifth member of The Four.

Poster for Drooko, Joseph Wright’s umbrella factory, Glasgow, 1894–95
Designed by Frances Macdonald (1873–1921) and Margaret Macdonald (1864–1933)
Facsimile print of an original photograph
From the collections of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 52932

Only a black-and-white photograph survives of this important early design by the Macdonald sisters, which was probably included in a poster exhibition in January 1895 held at art dealer Alexander Reid’s Glasgow gallery, La Société des Beaux-Arts. The elongated composition and severe female figure draw directly from Aubrey Beardsley’s Salomé. On either side of the central figure, the flowering stems of giant hogweed, a member of the Umbelliferae family of plants, make both a humorous visual and verbal reference to the umbrellas the poster is advertising.

Poster for The Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, ca. 1894–95
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Printed by Carter and Pratt, Glasgow
Lithographic print on four joined sheets of paper
From the collections of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 52978

For this early poster Mackintosh made a careful study of Beardsley’s illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, drawing most directly from its frontispiece, which was reproduced in The Studio (on view nearby). Mackintosh flipped the composition and transformed Beardsley’s line of the dripping, bloody head of John the Baptist on the original’s right into a fantastical tall plant now on the left.

Founded in 1861 and still in existence, The Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts holds an annual exhibition of artworks for sale.

Poster for The Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, ca. 1895
Designed by Frances Macdonald (1873–1921), Margaret Macdonald (1864–1933), and James Herbert McNair (1868–1955)
Printed by Carter and Pratt, Glasgow
Lithographic print on four joined sheets of paper
Glasgow Museums: Given by Mrs. Alice Talwin Morris, 1939,

These posters reveal the evolution of The Four’s ideas during their Spook School period—so called because critics scoffed at their “human beings drawn on the gas-pipe system” and described their works as ghoulish. In these early years of their friendship, McNair and the Macdonald sisters collaborated frequently. In this poster for The Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, human figures start to fuse with plant forms, sprouting from a central baseline motif representing a stylized seed. Simplified roses and flying birds with arced wings appear at the very top of the poster; both motifs became favorites of The Four.

Poster for The Scottish Musical Review, 1896
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Printed by Banks & Co., Edinburgh and Glasgow
Lithographic print on four joined sheets of paper
Glasgow Museums: Given by Mrs. Alice Talwin Morris, 1939,

This is one of two poster designs Mackintosh created for the May 1896 relaunch of the journal The Scottish Musical Review. Based on his sketch made in November 1894, entitled Autumn, Mackintosh here took the human-plant hybrid to its most abstract manifestation. This poster also shows some recurring design “rules” that reappear time and again in The Four’s work of this period: motifs that link design to the advertising subject (here, the singing birds), large circles to offset verticals, subtle asymmetry, and elongated forms.

Three stencil cards for a mural in Miss Cranston’s Buchanan Street Tearooms, 1896–97
Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Made by J. & W. Guthrie and Andrew Wells Ltd., Glasgow
Card and paint
Glasgow Museums: Bought 1984, E.1984.32.5, .6, .7

These stencils were used to create the tops of three mystical trees in one of Mackintosh’s mural schemes for the rooms in Catherine Cranston’s artistic Buchanan Street Tearooms, which opened in May 1897. This was one of three murals he designed for his first tearoom commission in 1896. The black print on each card shows the overall design of the individual treetops. Traces of paint around the cut-out areas for stenciling indicate that a palette of strong colors, including olive greens and burgundy, was used for this decorative scheme. Archival images showing Mackintosh’s three murals for Miss Cranston’s Buchanan Street Tearooms can be seen in the nearby video presentation.

Tsuba Designs
Flight of arrows, 16th–17th century
Kinai School, Japan
Glasgow Museums: Bought 1895,

Cormorants and waves, 18th century
Kinai School, Japan
Iron and gold
Glasgow Museums: Bought 1895, 1895.44.l

Lotus, possibly 17th–18th century
Kaneie School, Japan
Iron and silver
Glasgow Museums: Bought 1895,

A tsuba is the decorative metal guard made for a Japanese sword that serves as a protective barrier between the hand grip and the blade. Crafted by specialist artisans, they became popular among European and American collectors in the late nineteenth century. These are three of the more than eighty-four examples acquired by Glasgow’s Industrial Museum in 1895. Tsuba could have influenced Mackintosh’s cut-out stencil designs for Miss Cranston’s Buchanan Street Tearooms and the green plant forms that appear at the top of the Scottish Musical Review poster. Such objects would have been easily accessible to The Glasgow School of Art’s students, who were encouraged to work from museum collections to develop innovative design.

The Art of Stenciling
© Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums), 2019

The technique of stenciling uses simple, cheap, and readily available materials—card and paint—to decorate large expanses of wall economically.

The art form gained popularity in the late nineteenth century and suited Mackintosh’s bold graphic style perfectly. He employed it to great effect in his decorative interior schemes, from club rooms and tearooms to churches and domestic spaces. His most dramatic stenciled artworks were made for the Glasgow businesswoman and entrepreneur Catherine Cranston in 1896–97, when she commissioned him to create three artistic murals in her city-center tearooms on Buchanan Street.

This film explains the process of stenciling and looks at some of the decorative stencil designs that Mackintosh and his fellow Glasgow Style designer and interior decorator George Walton created between 1892 and 1900. You will find works in this gallery and the adjacent galleries relating to many of the interior and architectural projects featured in this film.

Running time: 6 minutes, 26 seconds

A Pond, 1894
Frances Macdonald (1873–1921)
In The Magazine, November 1894
Pencil and watercolor on paper
From the collections of The Glasgow School of Art, MC/A/3

With its screaming human dragonflies and smiling tadpoles, this pond life has a disturbing effect. When Frances Macdonald exhibited this watercolor at The GSA’s Art Club in November 1894, detractors commented that works like this made people “ill with nightmares.” Critics in the male-dominated press particularly identified the Macdonald sisters’ aesthetic as a “rather weird adaptation of the human form to decorative purposes” and described it as being “fearfully, wonderfully, weirdly ‘now.’”

Candlestick, ca. 1896
Designed and made by Frances Macdonald (1873–1921)
Repoussé and chased brass
Glasgow Museums: Given by Mrs. Alice Talwin Morris, 1946, E.1946.5.d

Working in the studio she shared with her sister Margaret in the center of Glasgow, Frances Macdonald excelled at metalwork. By 1896 the all-seeing eye was a recurring motif in her work. On this candlestick, eyes watch from the top of the stem and peer out of the foliage forms on the wide base. In 1897 the magazine The Studio reproduced this candlestick with its pair, in the first feature profiling the Macdonald sisters’ work. The article examined the new aesthetic the sisters and Mackintosh were producing in Glasgow.

Photograph of the folding screen The Birth and Death of the Winds, ca. 1895
Designed by James Herbert McNair (1868–1955), Frances Macdonald (1873–1921), and Margaret Macdonald (1864–1933)
Photographer unknown
Photographic print
From the collections of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 52936

Exhibited at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition of April 1895 in Glasgow, this stained wood folding screen was a truly collaborative work. McNair designed the screen, and he and the Macdonald sisters each designed and made one of the three beaten brass panels set along the top. These metal panels are decorated with motifs of twisted, emaciated humans whose hair and bodies provide a rigid geometric framework within which a dynamic action takes place. Only the tracing drawings for the screen’s metal panels are known to survive.

Program for The Glasgow School of Art Club, 1893
Designed by Frances Macdonald (1873–1921)
Ink on paper
From the collections of The Glasgow School of Art, MC/A/18

The spindly and distorted elements in this design drawn by Frances Macdonald give it a disturbing quality. Two ultrathin female figures are bound at the waist to a strange fruiting tree. The woman on the left, a personification of Art, holds a palette, while the one on the right, who symbolizes Music, holds a stringed instrument, possibly a harp. The shape of each has been deliberately distorted so that their bodies complete the lines of two full circles.

Cabbages in an Orchard, 1894
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
In The Magazine, April 1894
Watercolor on paper
From the collections of The Glasgow School of Art, MC/G/4

Mackintosh plays with the watery qualities of his medium to create an abstract, atmospheric landscape of long-stalked forms depicting weathered cabbages and trees. He wrote a four-page explanatory essay to accompany this work for The Magazine, an unpublished handmade album of essays and drawings by The Immortals and their friends. Mackintosh’s text gives us a rare glimpse into his quirky and surreal sense of humor. He explains that the very old trees have forgotten what it is to be a tree, and so they have become like the cabbages they gaze on in their orchard.

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