Charles Rennie Mackintosh Making the Glasgow style

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

On Saturday we travelled over to Liverpool to visit the exhibition about Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the “Glasgow style” that had recently opened at the Walker Gallery. I’m a fan of the work of this rather brilliant architect / artist / interior designer and have visited a number of buildings that he designed over the years, so was keen to see the exhibition, even though, unusually for the Walker, there was a charge for entry. Despite this we had to queue for a short while before we were allowed in as the galleries were at capacity, so the entry fee certainly hasn’t put everybody off.

There was a lot to see; architects’ drawings, paintings, furniture, other objects produced by Mackintosh and other members of the Glasgow School, plus contextual information (including a number of short videos), and we spent a good hour and a half looking round. Unfortunately photography wasn’t allowed but the catalogue was, I thought, reasonably priced at a tenner, so we were able to take home a good reminder of what we’d seen. A number of “highlights” can also be viewed on the exhibition website.

Although Mackintosh’s work featured heavily, and was no doubt the main draw for visitors, there were some works by the other members of his close circle,
Margaret MacDonald (who he married), her sister Frances and his friend James Herbert McNair (who married Frances). Together, they became known as “the Four”. The group has a Liverpool connection as McNair was appointed as Instructor in Design at the city’s School of Architecture and Applied Art in 1898 and he moved there with Frances. The Walker had previously held an exhibition about the McNairs back in 2007, which I remeber visiting.

Exponents of the Glasgow Style were influenced by a number of artistic movements, particularly the Arts and Crafts movement,  Art Nouveau, and Symbolism , and they in turn, particularly Mackintosh and Margaret MacDonald had an impact on the Continental artists.

Although a lot of attention is paid to Mackintosh, I think that his wife had a major influence on him and it could be argued that they were collaborators. And one of the highlights of the exhibition for me was Margaret’s large gesso work , The May Queen

Other highlights included

  • Architectural drawings by Mackintosh for some of his iconic buildings including the Glasgow School of Art (sadly severely damaged by the fire last year) and his proposal for Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, which I think would have been a magnificent building if his design had been selected,
  • Man Makes the Beads of Life but Woman Must Thread Them, a watercolour by Frances MacDonald McNair from 1911, painted when she was going through a very difficult time in her relationship with McNair
  • Furniture, fittings and stencils designed for Mrs Cranston’s tearooms in Glasgow
  • Drawings and a video about buildings designed by two other architects, James Salmon Jnr  and John Gaff Gillespie 
  • Book cover designs, bookplates and sketches by Talwin Morris

So, all in all, a very good exhibition, well worth seeing. It’s a pity about the entry fee, as I’m sure that will put off some people who’d like to see it (especially families).

Wigan Hall

Wigan Hall

Wigan Hall was actually the Rectory for Wigan Parish Church which stands at the opposite end of Hallgate. It replaced an older building that stood on the site. The Rector was quite a powerful individual in old Wigan as he was also lord of the manor – a hang over from the Feudal system – and a major land owner.

It looks Medieval or Tudor but it was actually built in in 1875 in the Arts and Crafts style. The architect was GE Street who was also responsible for the Royal Courts of Justice in London and was usually associated with the Gothic Revival style. It’s a Grade II Listed Building and described on the Historic England website.

The building was derelict for many years, but has recently been renovated to become the headquarters of The Sports Office, a software company owned by former Wigan Rugby League player and Sky Sports pundit, Phil Clarke.

A drawing of Wigan Hall, thought to be created by architects in 1873

Architects drawing (Source: Wigan Today)

‘The loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’

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She came towards him dancing, moving the folds of the veil so that they unfolded slowly as she danced

One of the highlights of the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin is thje collection of modern stained glass displayed in a small, darkened room close to the entry of the Gallery. My favourite of these works is the the Art Nouveau / Arts and crafts style stained glass window by the Irish artist Harry Clarke, inspired by the poem The Eve of St Agnes  by John Keats, completed in 1924. Last year it was joined by an exquisite small panel, only a few inches across, purchased from the Fine Art Society in London. It was originally intended to be part of Clarke’s Geneva Window, described by Clarke’s friend and patron Thomas Bodkin as ‘the loveliest thing ever made by an Irishman’.

It’s a beautiful little work, typical of Clarke’s work – and like The Eve of St Agnes it’s incredibly detailed and beautifully composed with rich, deep and vibrant colour.

The panel depicts a scene from Liam O’Flaherty’s novel Mr Gilhooley, showing a partially nude dancer, Nelly, Gilhooley’s mistress, covered only by a transparent veil. It was one of a series of eight panels inspired by the literature of 20th Century Irish authors including Yeats, Shaw and O’Casey. The Hugh Lane’s pane  was Clarke’s original attempt to create the scene, but during its final firing, it developed a hairline crack. Clarke later remade this section. He had to replace it in the final work and in doing so changed the colour scheme from pink to blue.The Geneva Window was commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations building in Geneva in late 1920s but was deemed to be unsuitable by the then president of the executive council of the Irish Free State ,WT Cosgrave. In 1988 Clarke’s sons, David and Michael, sold it to a wealthy American art collector, Mitchell Wolfson, and today it’s displayed in his museum in Miami Beach, Florida.More detailed information and images of the Geneva Window can be found here and here.

Arts and Crafts House, Wigan

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This Arts and Crafts style house on Wigan Lane near to Wigan Infirmary is now part of the Hospital’s library and information centre.

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A mixture of Gothic and mock Tudor and English vernacular styles

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An attractive Gothic style front door surround

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Interesting Stained glass windows.

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A Dutch scene. I don’t know what the connection is with a northern English former coal mining town.

The Honan Chapel

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The Honan Chapel stands just outside the official boundary of the UCC campus, but is effectively, part of the site. So I couldn’t help but notice it. I almost passed it by, but as I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get back to the train station I decided I might as well take a closer look. I’m glad I did. It was a little gem.

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It was only built in the early 20th Century,being consecrated on 5 November 1916. At first glance I could see it was a neo-Romanesque building, this doorway being very typical of the style

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but a closer look revealed Celtic features, such as these capitals

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The chapel is, in fact, a product of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and is Hiberno-Romanesque, reflecting the style of early Christian churches in Ireland. It’s a product of the Celtic Twilight of Irish artists influenced by Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and the Celtic traditions of their native land.

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Inside there is a magnificent mosaic floor depicting the “River of Life”, (the colours haven’t come out on my photos, unfortunately)

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All the “furniture and fittings” were beautifully crafted and full of detail

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But I was particularly taken by the superb stained glass. There are nineteen windows in the Honan Chapel. Eight of the windows were designed by An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), the stained glass studio of the Irish artist Sarah Purser. The other eleven were designed by Harry Clarke, the artist responsible for the Eve of St Agnes window that’s displayed in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin  The Honan Chapel was his first major commission.

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Clarke’s work is exquisite. Very much influenced by the Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Arts and Crafts movement with finely drawn figures, minutely detailed images and luminous colours. Thee photos really can’t do them justice;they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be really appreciated.

Ruskin’s Memorial

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John Ruskin died at Brantwood from influenza on 20 January 1900 at the age of 80. He was buried five days later in Coniston churchyard rather than in Westminster Abbey, which might have been expected. But he’d asked to be laid to rest in the Lakeland village near where he spent the last years of his life.

It was easy enough to find his gave as there was a sign on the side of the church pointing the way. I was quite surprised at the simplicity of the design of the monument. I’d noticed a grand, Gothic style monument at the back of the church from the road as we passed a few days earlier and, given that Ruskin was probably the main driving force behind  the Victorian Gothic Revival, I assumed that was his. But I later discovered that monument, which was actually quite close to Ruskin’s grave, marked those of a family of local big wigs.

Ruskin’s monument, although heavily decorated with carvings, is more elegant and less vulgar, more in the Arts and Crafts tradition. It was designed by his Secretary and friend, W G Collingwood and was carved by a mason from Ulverston, H T Miles . I found this out while reading Collingwood’s “The Book of Coniston”, which I discovered while conducting some research on him after our holiday. It’s available via Project Gutenberg. In it, he writes

In Coniston Churchyard the centre of general interest is Ruskin’s grave, marked by the tall sculptured cross of gray Tilberthwaite stone, which stands under the fir trees near the wall separating the churchyard from the schoolyard. Near it are the white crosses of the Beevers, and the railed-in space is reserved for the family of Brantwood. The sculptures on the east face are intended to suggest Ruskin’s earlier writings—the lower panel his juvenile poems; above, the young artist with a hint of sunrise over Mont Blanc in the background, for “Modern Painters;” the Lion of St. Mark, for “Stones of Venice,” and the candlestick of the Tabernacle for “Seven Lamps.”

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There’s also a swastika separating the years of Ruskin’s birth and death. Quite innocent as it was carved before the symbol was appropriated by the Nazis. But I’m sure it’s use would have been deliberate and have some meaning.

On the west face below is the parable of the labourers in the vineyard—”Unto this Last,” then “Sesame and Lilies,” the Angel of Fate with club, key and nail for “Fors Clavigera,” the “Crown of Wild Olive,” and St. George, symbolizing his later work. On the south edge are the Squirrel, the Robin and the Kingfisher in a scroll of wild rose to suggest Ruskin’s favourite studies in natural history. On the north edge is a simple interlaced plait. The cross was carved by the late H. T. Miles of Ulverston from designs by W. G. Collingwood.

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Collingwood also designed a number of war memorials for towns in the region, including Hawkshead, Ulverston and St Bees. He also designed the one standing at the front of the church in Coniston.

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Collingwood, his wife and some of his children are buried nearby Ruskin’s grave. Their headstones are simple with distinctive Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau style lettering

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Beautiful Blackwell

After our latest visit to Abbot Hall to see the Patrick Caulfield exhibition we drove the few miles over to Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house near to Bowness that’s also owned by the Lakelands Art Trust. We first visited this marvellous house a couple of years ago, but have been back several times since both to see the exhibitions they hold there and to revel in the fantastic interior.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century as a holiday home for the Mancunian Brewery tycoon, Edward Holt,  on a hill overlooking Lake Windermere, its a superb example of a house built in the English Arts and Crafts Movement style. The architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott

During previous visits, photography wasn’t allowed inside the house. But the policy has changed and it is now possible to take pictures, except of objects where it is clearly identified that for copyright reasons photography is forbidden. I didn’t have my camera with me but was able to take some shots using my phone. So not top quality, but they give an impression of the interior.

This is part of the main Medieval style grand hall. The peacock frieze, installed in around 1906, has been lovingly restored and the original copper lightshades have been reinstalled.

A speciality of Baillie Scott was the Inglenook – a recessed fireplace almost forming a small room within a room – which feature in all the main downstairs rooms.  He incorporates windows and seating and they must have been very cosy places to sit and read or talk on a cold damp Lakeland day.

This is the inglenook in the Great Hall

The light and dark stonework has a very modern look but he has incorporated Delft type tiles and antique ironwork. I think it works really well – a blend of old and “new”.

The inglenook in the dining room, behind an elegant stone arch,  has a very similar look.

I remember the first time I entered the stunning White Drawing Room and how I drew my breath. It made an instant impression and it remains my favourite room in the house. The decor reminds me of the dining room in Rennie Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover. It has a very similar look and feel. Very modern in feel and very different to the other downstairs rooms. More delicate with a floral carvings and decoration. and some beautiful stained glass

Another inglenook, but in this case it has a different look to those in the Hall and Dining Room.

To either side of the fireplace there are slim, elegant columns with carved wood capitals.

I could sit in this window seat in this bay window with it’s view over Windermere and the Lakeland hills

This is the view from one of the windows upstairs

And here are a couple of pictures of some of the stained glass.

And there are some particularly nice pieces of furniture. This settee from the White Drawing Room and the Chair from one of the bedrooms are by Baillie Scott himself

I am particularly fond of this little clock produced by a local Lakeland craftsman. It has a real Art Nouveau look to it.

As does this lamp , which was designed by Baillie Scott

Mary Ward House

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Only a few days after our short break in early January I was back in London again, this time on business. But I always try to keep my eyes own for interesting architecture and works of art and while walking through Bloomsbury from my hotel to the venue of my meeting I spotted this building in Tavistock Place. Very “Arts and Crafts” with Art Noveauish features, I stopped for a short while to take a look and snap a few photos on my phone – not so easy during the Central London rush hour!

A little research on the net when I had chance revealed that the Grade 1 listed building – Mary Ward House – was built in 1898 as a centre of training, care and entertainment for “the less fortunate in society”. It was financed by the wealthy philanthropist Passmore Edwards who was inspired by  Mary Ward, a novelist and social reformer. Originally known as Passmore Edwards House it was renamed after Mary Ward in 1921 the year after her death.

I particularly liked the main doorway which reminded me of the work of Rennie Mackintosh

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I also liked the distinctive lettering over the doorways – very “Art Nouveau”.

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I found some information about the history of the building on the English Buildings blog which tells us that the building

housed the first properly equipped classrooms for children with disabilities and was also home to a centre where children could come to play in a safe, warm, bully-free environment. A hall, gym, library, and other communal rooms were provided, and there were also residential rooms for those living in the settlement.

This blog post also tells us that Gustav Holst used to be the settlement’s Director of Music.

Today the building is used as a conference centre. There are some photographs of the interior on their website.

There’s some more information and some photographs on the Victorian Web website here and some information on the history of the Mary Ward Settlement here.

Art Nouveau in Bristol

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This amazing Art Nouveau building is at the bottom of Broad Strret in the old city area of Bristol. Set back from the road and behind the line of the adjacent buildings you don’t notice it until you’re right on top of you, but when we caught sight of it we couldn’t help but stop in our tracks to take a look.

It was built in 1900 as the main works for the printer Edward Everard.. It was designed by a local architect, Henry Williams, and the tiled facade, made from ‘Carraraware” *, was created by W.J. Neatby, Chief Designer for Doulton and Co.

Half way up the facade there are representations of Gutenberg and William Morris, both working at their presses, standing on either side and looking inwards towards an angelic Spirit of Literature. Behind each is a typeface which he designed. The company’s name is spelled out in letters designed by Everard himself,

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At the top in the pediment there’s a female figure representing Light and Truth. The tiles are arranged so they radiate out from the figure like the rays of the sun.

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Art Nouveau was very much a continental movement, and classic AN style buildings are few and far between in Britain. This is a beautiful example. Although most the building was demolished in 1970, thankfully the marvellous facade was preserved.

 

*Carrara ware was the trade name for a glazed stoneware, single fired to a matt (often white) finish, developed by Doulton’s of Lambeth during the late 1880s and used from 1888 in architectural work; it was produced until 1939. (Source here)