At the turn of the 20th century, Glasgow, Scotland was undergoing a change. The economic boom of the United Kingdom’s second most important city afforded them a chance to indulge in the arts. Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style is a new exhibition touring the United States that explores this innovative time in the city’s history. The exhibit puts a focus on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the movement’s most important contributor (and perhaps the city’s most well known). But there are also much deserved bright lights on Mackintosh’s colleagues. The exhibition is making the rounds and will be on display in the United States through 2021.
Getting to Know Charles Rennie Mackintosh
After a much too brief visit to Glasgow a few months ago and taking tea at one of the Willow Tearooms, this was a must-see exhibit for me. I knew little about Mackintosh before visiting and as my trip was brief, I only get the smallest of tastes of the impact this Scot had on design. So a visit to the Walters Art Museum with my husband was in order!
The exhibition only briefly touches on Mackintosh’s background before he began pursuing art and architecture. There are hints at his early influences. There are examples of works of art he may have seen in Glasgow. Similarly there the exhibit provides a context of where the city was at in its development during this time.
As you progress through the exhibition, it is remarkable some of the pieces that can be seen. More than 150 articles have made the trek across the Atlantic Ocean. This includes original stencils still bearing the paint around the edges, stunning architectural drawings, huge advertising posters, unique pieces of furniture, and more. In particular, I enjoyed seeing works of art by Mackintosh from the final years of his life.
Beyond Mackintosh: The Glasgow School of Art
While Mackintosh is clearly a major focus of the exhibition, much of the information is about his colleagues. The Glasgow Style is a collaborative movement. Part of this can be seen in the Glasgow School of Art which turned out so many of these likeminded artists and craftspeople. The curriculum of the Glasgow School of Art included a number of disciplines. The school, somewhat ahead of its time, embraced female students.
There is also a focus on The Four, a collaborative group that Mackintosh formed with James MacNair, and sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald. (Mackintosh and Margaret would later marry as would MacNair and Frances.) It is Mackintosh and Margaret’s collaborative “The May Queen” piece that is perhaps the standout of the exhibit. It is simply striking and a real reflection of the times.
About the Exhibit
Curated by Alison Brown of the Glasgow Museum, the exhibition Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style kicks off its tour of the States at Baltimore’s Walters Art Museum. The exhibition and tour are a collaboration with the American Federation of Arts.
The exhibition will be in Baltimore through January 5th before continuing on to Nashville’s Frist Art Museum (June 26–September 27), and St. Petersburg, FL’s Museum of the American Arts & Crafts Movement (October 29, 2020–January 24, 2021), before finishing up at Chicago’s Richard H. Driehaus Museum (February 27–May 23, 2021).
Each museum likely has its own ticketing policy for the exhibition. The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore is always free and that includes the exhibition. Regardless, the exhibition is the first in a generation to occur in the United States.
All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.