Born in 1868 in Glasgow, Scotland, Charles Rennie Mackintosh grew up and studied in a city undergoing immense social change and growth. Glasgow was recognized as the Second City of the British Empire because of the scale and importance of its world-class engineering, shipbuilding, manufacturing industries, and international trade.

For a young aspiring architect such as Mackintosh, Glasgow’s historic urban environment and contemporary expansion provided exciting and important stimuli. Improvements set by British law, including changes in education, meant that the city was developing rapidly to meet the needs of its growing population. Significant public architectural landmarks were being constructed across the city. A crowd of some six hundred thousand people thronged to see the civic trades parade that culminated in the ceremonial laying of the foundation stone for the new City Chambers in 1883. The very act of building became spectacle.

In 1883, aged fifteen, Mackintosh began attending evening classes at The Glasgow School of Art (GSA). From 1885, he had direct experience of the positive impact of Francis Newbery, the School’s new and dynamic director. Under Newbery’s leadership, the GSA’s Board of Governors and prize sponsors included Glasgow’s top architects, artisans, business elite, and industrialists. Its visiting lecturers and assessors were the leaders of the British Arts and Crafts movement—those championing the traditional handicrafts as a move away from mechanized manufacturing. The GSA nurtured young talent and enabled the city’s art industries to observe and recruit the best. The founding of new museums, the city’s hosting of international exhibitions, and a focus on artistic education and enterprise gave Mackintosh’s generation a myriad of experiences and opportunities.

The Corporation Art Galleries, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, 1859
Mark Dessurne (1825–1885)
Pencil and watercolor on paper
Glasgow Museums: Acquired 1951,

Aged fifteen, Mackintosh (whose surname was then spelled McIntosh) enrolled at The Glasgow School of Art in 1883. Because of his previous specialized education, he came well prepared with scientific and technical training in several techniques, including drawing, metalworking, and woodworking. At the time the GSA was housed in rented rooms on the second floor of the Corporation Galleries. Entry was by the ground-floor east-side door on Rose Street, seen on the right in this drawing.

Collection stand from Dowanhill United Presbyterian Church, 1866
Designed by William Leiper (1839–1916)
Painted decoration by Daniel Cottier (1838–1891)
Painted wood
Glasgow Museums: Acquired 1982, PP.1982.132.3

Glasgow’s rapid population growth in the second half of the nineteenth century fueled the building of many new churches, including Dowanhill United Presbyterian Church, designed by the architect William Leiper and the stained glass artist and interior decorator Daniel Cottier. This collection stand (for alms) is an example of the richly painted ornamental work that Leiper and Cottier created for Dowanhill, inspired by the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Though only in their early twenties when they designed this church, the pair quickly became significant contributors to the new and colorful architectural landscape of Glasgow, the city in which Mackintosh was growing up.

Caledonia Road Church, Gorbals, Glasgow, 1856
Alexander “Greek” Thomson (1817–1875)
Ink, wash, and pencil on paper
Mitchell Library, Special Collections: Bequeathed by the late John Thomson, son of Alexander Thomson, 1934, MLSC.989034.AGT.10

Alexander “Greek” Thomson was the first great Glasgow architect, designing churches, apartments, shops, townhouses, and villas. His distinctive, monumental style, which Mackintosh studied, was a fusion of forms and detailing derived from ancient Greece and Egypt. This drawing is for the main facade of the Caledonia Road Church, the first of Thomson’s three extraordinary churches built in Glasgow between 1856 and 1869.

Program for the Students’ Annual Reunion of The Glasgow School of Art and Haldane Academy at the Corporation Galleries, February 1888
Guest speaker: Walter Crane (1845–1915)
Designed by A. E. Holmes
Lithographic ink print on paper
Glasgow Museums: Bought by Glasgow Museums with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, 2004, E.2005.1.111

Program for the Third Annual Reunion of Past and Present Students of The Glasgow School of Art at the Corporation Galleries, February 1889
Guest speaker: William Morris (1834–1896)
Designed by Andrew Allan (1863–1942)
Lithographic ink print on paper
Glasgow Museums: Bought by Glasgow Museums with the support of The National Lottery Heritage Fund, 2004, E.2005.1.112

After becoming the director of The Glasgow School of Art in 1885, Francis Newbery quickly forged links with important individuals in the English Arts and Crafts movement and, as these programs show, he invited them to speak to students past and present at the School’s Annual Reunions. Walter Crane was an illustrator and painter, head of the Art Workers’ Guild, and co-founder of the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in London. William Morris was the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement and a politically active socialist, championing the rights of the worker at a time of mass industrialization. The ideas expressed by Crane and Morris in their lectures informed the future direction of teaching the technical arts at the GSA.

Illustrations for William Morris’s The Story of the Glittering Plain
Drawings by Walter Crane (1845–1915), ca. 1893
Published as woodcuts by William Morris’s Kelmscott Press, 1894
Pen, ink, and bodycolor on paper

Chapter III: The Warriors of the Raven Search the Seas
Glasgow Museums: Bought from L. F. Crane, 1921, PR.1921.15.c

Chapter X: They Hold Converse with Folk of the Glittering Plain
Glasgow Museums: Bought from L. F. Crane, 1921, PR.1921.15.j

William Morris and Walter Crane were two of the most seminal and multitalented artistic figures in late Victorian Britain. Morris’s writings helped create the modern fantasy genre, while Crane’s detailed and medieval-inspired drawings influenced a new generation of designers and illustrators. Their collaboration on the second edition of The Story of the Glittering Plain, written by Morris with illustrations by Crane, was published in January–February 1894 as a high-end limited-edition volume, printed on handmade paper.

Learning from the Art of the Past

Glasgow’s civic museums were formally established in 1870. The collections supported the study of the history of ornament and the antique, a core part of art school training in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century. James Paton, the curator and superintendent of Glasgow’s museums and art gallery, collaborated with Francis Newbery at The Glasgow School of Art to source examples of handicrafts, manufacturing, material samples, and period styles for educational purposes.

Electrotype replica of a 16th-century German (Nuremberg) ewer in the Louvre Museum, Paris, ca. 1878
Elkington & Co., Birmingham
Copper and gilt
Glasgow Museums: Bought from Elkington & Co., London, 1878, 1878.143.d

Between 1878 and 1899, Glasgow built a collection of almost one hundred electrotype replicas (metal-plated casts) of historic objects, including this ewer (large jug). These were made by Elkington & Co. of Birmingham. The casts were taken from objects in the best collections around the world; the original of this vessel is in the collection of the Louvre Museum, Paris. High-quality replicas reflected the commitment of Glasgow’s civic museums to acquiring copies of extraordinary works for teaching purposes.

Replica of an ancient Roman bowl in the Vatican Museums, 1890s
Venice & Murano Glass and Mosaic Company Ltd., Italy
Glass with millefiori inclusions
Glasgow Museums: Bought from Venice & Murano Glass and Mosaic Company, London, 1895, 1895.47.d

In 1895 Glasgow’s museums acquired this replica of an ancient Roman vessel, after an original in the Vatican Museums, along with six other copies of ancient glass objects produced by the Venice & Murano Glass and Mosaic Company. This manufacturer, led by the industrialist and collector Alessandro Castellani, specialized in making copies of ancient Roman or early Christian glass. Copies were a practical solution to teach the history of ornament and the antique, allowing students to interact with the best examples from across the world.

Goblet of Venetian “Vario Pinto” glass, 1888
Salviati, Venice, Italy
Glass with aventurine inclusions
Glasgow Museums: Bought from Salviati at the Glasgow International Exhibition, 1888, 1888.39.b

In 1888 Glasgow hosted its first International Exhibition, a huge temporary showcase for local and international trade and manufacturing. Glasgow’s museums bought many objects, selecting works of technical interest that could be of educational benefit to the city’s key industries. This goblet is one of five glass pieces the city purchased from Salviati, one of the most prestigious Venetian glass manufacturers, which had a booth at the exhibition.

Four tiles: The Elements—Fire, Air, Water, and Earth (Ignis, Zephyria, Acqua, and Terra), ca. 1877
Designed by Walter Crane (1845–1915)
Manufactured by G. Maw & Co., Salop, Broseley, England
Glazed earthenware
Glasgow Museums: Given by G. Maw & Co. through Glasgow suppliers Galbraith & Winton, 1877,, .ch, .dh, .eh

Glasgow’s civic museums collected various kinds of ceramics for the instruction of students and artisans both at the GSA and those working in the sixteen industrial potteries active in the city at that time. These four tiles were part of a major acquisition of more than three hundred manufacturing and material samples from Maw & Co., which by 1880 was the largest tile maker in the world. Maw is best known for its Gothic-style colored-clay floor tiles, which were assembled like mosaics.

Carved wooden panel in the Gothic style, undated
Made in France
Glasgow Museums: Bought from Parvillée Frères et Cie, Paris, 1895, 1895.136.aa

This panel with Gothic architectural forms is one of 162 pieces of carved wood, wall panels, decorated plaster, and other embellished objects that Glasgow’s civic museums bought from the French art dealer Parvillée Frères et Cie in 1895. The purchase was made with the intent to introduce a variety of period styles and ornamentation into Glasgow’s collections as sources to study.

Learning from Islamic Art

By 1900 works from the Middle East were well represented in Glasgow’s civic museums, thanks to a decades-long program to collect historic and contemporary work by craftspeople and manufacturers from across the globe. Under the guidance of Glasgow School of Art director Francis Newbery and his wife, Jessie—design instructor for needlework—these objects, particularly those from Persia (present-day Iran), informed many design exercises given to the students at the GSA.

İznik-ware tile, mid-16th century
Made in Anatolia, Turkey
Fritware, polychrome painted underglaze, and transparent overglaze
Glasgow Museums: Given by John Honeyman, of Honeyman & Keppie Architects, 1893, 1893.123

Many people Mackintosh knew donated to the city’s museums, including Francis and Jessie Newbery. Also particularly supportive were John Honeyman and John Keppie, the principals of Honeyman & Keppie Architects, the firm where Mackintosh worked as of 1889. The objects they gave were of historic interest and could be copied and studied by The Glasgow School of Art’s students to hone their skills. Honeyman gifted this tile to Glasgow’s civic collection in 1893. The inscription “Rhodian painted” on the frame of this tile is a nineteenth-century stylistic misattribution. At the time of acquisition, these painted tiles were believed to have been made on the Greek island of Rhodes but they are in fact Turkish.

Hexagonal Damascus tile, ca. 17th century
Made in Damascus, Syria
Fritware, polychrome painted underglaze, and transparent overglaze
Glasgow Museums: Bought with a grant from the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) from Habra Brothers, Great Portland Street, London, 1896, 1896.37.b

Damascus was one of several cities in the Ottoman Empire known for its ceramic wares, which were typically decorated with symbolic motifs derived from nature, such as the tapered cypress tree and stylized tulips seen on this hexagonal tile. In late nineteenth-century Glasgow, artists admired such stylized abstraction and used tiles like this as teaching tools for innovative design.

Study of a carpet, July 1891
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Pencil and watercolor on paper
From the collections of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 41435

This study of the border detail on the Persian sixteenth-century “Tiger Carpet” is one of two that Mackintosh made while traveling in Italy on a scholarship in 1891. The colorful and intricately patterned textile, approximately sixteen feet long and seven feet wide, was such an arresting sight for the young architect when he visited the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan that he noted it in his diary. The carpet itself, made during the Safavid period (1501–1722), is covered with an elaborate animal and floral pattern that is thought to represent Paradise.

The Japanese Exchange with Glasgow

In 1868, the year Mackintosh was born, the Meiji (Restoration) period began in Japan, opening the country to trade with Europe and the United States after centuries of self-imposed isolation. Connections between Glasgow and Japan began with the Iwakura Mission’s diplomatic visit to Glasgow’s major industrial businesses in October 1872. This relationship ultimately resulted in what became known as the Gift of the Japanese Government to the City of Glasgow’s museums in November 1878. It comprised 1,150 items, including fine examples of boldly patterned enamels, ceramics, costumes, lacquerware, metalware, textiles, and material samples.

Tankaku zufu (Red Crane’s Illustrated Compendium), 1847–53
Compiled by Mizuno Tadanaka (1814–1865), daimyo of Shingu Domain (now Wakayama Prefecture), Japan
Woodblock print on paper, and thread
Mitchell Library, Special Collections: Henry Dyer bequest, given by the Dyer family, 1924, 890156

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Glasgow shops increasingly stocked imported Japanese books, objects, and prints, offering creative thinkers like Mackintosh—who owned Japanese prints—a fascinating new visual reference. This book is a furniture inventory from residences of the Japanese aristocracy. The left page shows a large canopy frame to be hung with drapes over a bed. Recorded here as the structural framework, the shape of this piece of furniture may have inspired the gridded metal framework of umbrella stands that Mackintosh designed in 1900.

Japanese plate, undated
Maker unknown
Copper and cloisonné enamel
Glasgow Museums: Bought 1882, 1882.87

This cloisonné enamel dish was one of nearly a thousand Japanese objects on display in the Oriental Art Loan Exhibition, which opened at the Corporation Galleries in Glasgow on December 19, 1881. This huge temporary exhibition was the first of its kind in the city. Objects were lent by private collectors (including Glasgow industrialists), nobility, royalty, specialist dealers, and the South Kensington Museum (later known as the Victoria and Albert Museum) in London, which helped organize the event. The Glasgow School of Art devised a program of study specific to the exhibition, and its students had special evening access to the galleries.

Japan: Its Architecture, Art, and Art Manufactures, 1882
Christopher Dresser (1834–1904)
Published by Longmans, Green & Co.
Printed cloth hardcover, first edition
Mitchell Library, Special Collections: Given by Mrs. Eva Meldrum, in accordance with the wishes of James Meldrum, 1983, 709.52.DRE 70296

In 1876 Glasgow-born Christopher Dresser was the first European designer invited to Japan to observe and advise on the country’s art and architecture and craft manufacturers. First published in 1882, this book is his four-month travelogue, recording the craftsmanship he saw and his impressions of Japan and its culture. In March 1882, using the exhibits around him as examples, Dresser gave a lecture titled “Japanese Art Workmanship” at the Oriental Art Loan Exhibition in Glasgow.

Sheet of fusuma-gami (door paper), mid-1870s
Shichigoro Koizumi (1808–1885)
Woodblock print on mitsumata paper, and gold leaf
Glasgow Museums: Given by the Japanese Government to the City of Glasgow as part of a cultural and intellectual exchange, 1878, 1878.169.jj.49

The gift of art objects from the Japanese government to Glasgow contained many examples of printed paper. This “door paper” (fusuma-gami) was used for the flat paneled screens of walls and doors in Japanese houses. A combination of a restrained tonal palette, the luxurious use of metallic ink, and the reduction of detail creates the paper’s elegant design. Flakes of gold leaf break up the flat solidity of the silver leaves. Japanese art was a huge influence on Art Nouveau and the Glasgow Style.

The Young Mackintosh’s Training Ground: Glasgow’s Necropolis
Filmed with the assistance of the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis
© Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums), 2019

Glasgow Necropolis is the imposing cemetery on the hill behind the city’s medieval cathedral. The young Mackintosh spent time sketching among the elaborate carved stone and cast-iron monuments, many of which were designed by the city’s preeminent architects. Mackintosh’s first freestanding structure was erected here: a Celtic cross memorial to Glasgow’s chief of police, Alexander McCall. The commission probably came through Mackintosh’s father, a policeman who was McCall’s assistant.

Running time: 7 minutes, 38 seconds

Glasgow Cathedral at Sunset, 1890
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Pencil and watercolor on paper
From the collections of The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 41031

This atmospheric depiction of Glasgow’s medieval cathedral is the first watercolor Mackintosh is known to have made. The view would have been very familiar to him, since the cathedral was near where he and his family lived between 1874 and 1892. The young Mackintosh would have passed the building and its grounds on his way to and from his daytime work at the architectural firms and evening study at The Glasgow School of Art.

Sketch: House at Corner of McLeod Street, 1889
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Pencil on paper
Glasgow Museums: Given by James Meldrum, 1969, PR.1969.12.a

Mackintosh learned much about the architecture of centuries past through sketching, frequently drawing the old buildings of Glasgow that remained in and around the area of High Street and the cathedral. This sketch, which he executed the year he became a draftsman for the architectural practice of Honeyman & Keppie, depicts the rear of Provand’s Lordship. The building, dating from 1471, was the second oldest in Glasgow’s city center after the cathedral. By the 1880s the old house had been subdivided and was used for residential and commercial use.

North Italian Sketchbook—drawings of a tour in Italy, 1891
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
© The Glasgow School of Art
iPad presentation © Culture and Sport Glasgow (Museums), 2019

The Glasgow Institute of Architects established a student scholarship in memory of Alexander “Greek” Thomson (1817–1875) that enabled the winner to travel and study abroad. In 1890 Mackintosh was the second recipient. He chose to travel around Italy between early April and mid-July 1891, visiting more than twenty-three towns and cities. He was twenty-three, and the experience was formative.

This digitized sketchbook is from the first part of Mackintosh’s travels. Its pages document his tour around towns in northern Italy, including Pavia, Lake Como, Mantua, and Verona.

Running time: 6 minutes

Study Drawing: Some Norman Work from Berkshire, ca. 1884
Talwin Morris (1865–1911)
Ink on paper
Glasgow Museums: Given by Mrs. Alice Talwin Morris, 1946, PR.1977.13.d

Talwin Morris would become an important figure in the creation of the Glasgow Style. Between 1882 and 1890, he trained and worked as an architect in Reading, England, initially apprenticed to his uncle Joseph Morris. Like Mackintosh, Morris filled his notebooks with sketches of buildings and architectural forms, structural elements, spires, and other decorative details that caught his attention. As seen here, Morris was particularly interested in the profiles and plans of doorways and columns, as well as the patterns of carved and applied ornamentation.

The Harvest Moon, 1892
Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928)
Life-size facsimile print of an original pencil and watercolor on paper
© The Glasgow School of Art

This atmospheric watercolor marks a significant change in Mackintosh’s work. He painted it the year he enrolled in his first life-drawing courses at The Glasgow School of Art, a year after he returned from Italy. It is his first known watercolor to depict the human figure, as well as his earliest engagement with Symbolism, an artistic movement in which artists employed dreamlike combinations of meaningful elements and personal iconography in their work. Here the full moon of the autumn equinox, known as the harvest moon, is framed by the wings of an angel. It radiates warm light and illuminates the strange, ethereal scene, where the low cloud to the left of the moon is in fact a reclining nude female figure.

Too fragile to travel, this important work appears here in facsimile.

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