Special Collections: Mackintosh

Glasgow School of Art Library acts as one of the principal repositories for published research on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, architect of the School’s beautiful Art Nouveau building and one of its most famous alumni. It is our aim to collect as much published material on Mackintosh as we can, from academic catalogue raisonnes to small exhibition pamphlets, and from guide books to children’s books. We are always seeking to add to our holdings, and would be delighted to hear from anyone who possesses books we do not currently hold. We collect across all languages.

Mackintosh and the Glasgow School of Art

Born in Glasgow on 7 June 1868, Charles Rennie Mackintosh was apprenticed to a local architect John Hutchison, but in 1889 he transferred to the larger, more established city practice of Honeyman and Keppie. To complement his architectural apprenticeship, Mackintosh enrolled for evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art where he pursued various drawing programmes. Here under the watchful eye of the headmaster Francis Newbery, his talents flourished and in the School’s library he was able to consult the latest architecture and design journals becoming increasingly aware of his contemporaries both at home and abroad. He won numerous student prizes and competitions including the prestigious Alexander Thomson Travelling Studentship in 1890 that allowed him to undertake an architectural tour of Italy.

Back in Glasgow, Mackintosh’s projects for Honeyman and Keppie during the early 1890s displayed an increased maturity. His design for the Glasgow Herald Building (1894) incorporated some cutting-edge technology including a hydro-pneumatic lift and fire-resistant diatomite concrete flooring. Later at Martyr’s Public School (1895), despite a somewhat restricted brief, he was able to introduce some elaborate but controlled detailing including the central roof trusses.

In 1896 Mackintosh gained his most substantial commission, to design a new building for the Glasgow School of Art. This was to be his masterwork. Significantly, the building was constructed in two distinct phases, 1897-99 and 1907-09, due to a lack of money. Stylistically, the substantial delay in completion offered Mackintosh the opportunity to amend and fully integrate his original design (of 1896) which owed much to Scotland’s earlier baronial tradition with a second half to the building that looked very much to the 20th century through its use of materials and technology. Most dramatic of all the interiors was the new Library (completed in 1909), which was a complex space of timber posts and beams. Its construction owed much to traditional Japanese domestic interiors but ultimately the building was an eclectic mix of styles and influences.

In Europe the originality of Mackintosh’s style was quickly appreciated and in Germany, and particularly in Austria, he received the acclaim and recognition for his designs that he was never truly to gain at home. He contributed to the 8th Vienna Secession and participated in international exhibitions in Turin, Moscow and elsewhere. Despite success in Europe and the support of clients such as Blackie and Cranston, Mackintosh’s work met with considerable indifference at home and his career soon declined. Few private clients were sufficiently sympathetic to want his ‘total design’ of house and interior. A move to the South of France in 1923 signalled the end of Mackintosh’s three-dimensional career and the last years of his life were spent painting. He died in London on 10 December 1928.

The Mackintosh Special Collection as a research resource

The comprehensiveness of the Mackintosh Special Collection and its lengthy time-span, from 1952 to the present day, make it a rich resource for research at all levels. It offers a fascinating demonstration of how attitudes towards Mackintosh’s work have changed as he has become more widely known, and as his place in the history of twentieth century architecture has been better understood. The Collection can be used to place Mackintosh’s work in the context of what was happening in art and architecture at the turn of the twentieth century, and gives researchers an understanding of how subsequent generations of architects, such as Andy MacMillan and Steven Holl, have interpreted and been inspired by his designs.

In addition to books from well-established publishers, the Collection contains rare exhibition catalogues, pamphlets and material from lesser-known sources. These often feature, for example, specific areas of Mackintosh’s work such as his flower drawings and textile designs.

Another rich element of the Collection is GSA student dissertations about Mackintosh. These cover most of his buildings in detail, and in the case of the Mackintosh Building, analyse aspects such as the furniture and ironwork. There are many unique photographs, measured drawings and plans, some of which have proved invaluable in the post-fire restoration of the building. Work is currently underway to digitise as many of these dissertations as possible and to make them freely available.