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Charles Rennie Mackintosh

  • Name  : Mackintosh
  • Born  : 1868
  • Died  : 1928
  • Category  : Architects
  • Finest Moment : Glasgow School of Art

If the good citizens of Glasgow were asked to select one, and only one of their own for immortality, the name of Charles Rennie Mackintosh would be a good tip to win. He was born in Glasgow the son of a police superintendent and became apprenticed to the local architect John Hutchinson (1884-9). Just as crucially, at night he attended classes at the Glasgow School of Art, then under the directorship of the visionary Francis Newbery.

In 1889 he joined the firm of architects Honeyman & Keppie, initially as a draughtsman, then as a partner from 1904. One of his colleagues here, Herbert Macnair, shared similar ideas in design. Newbery also spotted two of his day students, the MacDonald sisters Frances and Margaret, as being like-minded, and introduced them. They became known as 'The Four', and introduced the world to the 'Glasgow Style'. This was allied to, but was distinct from, Art Nouveau. It would also lead into Modernism. But at the same time, much of it reached back into Scotland's baronial history.

Mackintosh was a natural and prolific artist and draughtsman; his sketch books are filled with details which would often later be incorporated into building features. He had a love of flowers, reflected later in his series of flower watercolours.

Initially engaged to Jessie Keppie, he later broke this off and married Margaret MacDonald. Jessie never married, and remained a spinster all her life. Margaret, herself a talented artist, was often asked by Charles to add her own skills to designs, in particular the finishings of rooms such as fabrics, and details of furniture. Their trademark, often imitated later, would be elongated, split blooms. This was often used in posters, books, furniture, cutlery, and in fact in almost every detail of any project. Mackintosh designed each and every item in a room, right down to the curtains and carpets, the handles on cupboards, the doorknobs.

But at home it was a familiar, sad old story. Rival architects, a slow public. In London, exhibiting at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1896, Mackintosh's work was reviled. It was acclaimed when first seen in Vienna, at the 8th Secessionist Exhibition in 1900. It was also met with great approval in Munich, Dresden, Turin, Budapest and Moscow.

A classic example of the attitude in Britain is seen in the publication Our Homes and How to Beautify Them (1902), where they reproduce a fine lithograph of a design for a dining room in a house in Mackintosh's portfolio, Haus Eines Kunstfreundes (House for Art Lovers). While the magazine printed the lithograph, showing they must have had some fascination for it, they also described it as 'dreadful', and 'mad'. As a touching tribute to Mackintosh, Glasgow built a house to this design in Bellahouston Park, completed in 1992. There is also the Mackintosh House at Glasgow University, completed in the late 1970s.

Mackintosh, meanwhile, was working on a design for a new Glasgow School of Art (1896-1909). This was to be his architectural masterpiece. The commission told him that money was short and that he was to keep it simple. This he did, but still his originality and attention to detail shone through nonetheless. And it remained functional. Other projects completed include Windyhill, Kilmacolm (1899-1901), Hill House, Helensburgh (1902), open to the public, the Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow (1904), Scotland Street School, Glasgow (1904-06), and Queen's Cross Church, also Glasgow.

Disillusioned, Mackintosh left Glasgow in 1913, moving to Chelsea, London. He worked on textile designs and flower studies. His last architectural project was 78 Derngate, Northampton, in 1917. They moved to France in 1920, where his happy stay resulted in many fine paintings. In 1927, with his health declining, they returned to London, where Mackintosh died on 10 December 1928.

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