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).

Art and about in Liverpool – Part 2

Leaving the Tate we made our way across the city centre, heading towards the Walker Art Gallery. Needing something to eat we stopped off at the
Bakchich  Lebanese “street food” restaurant just off Williamson Square – the second one in the city, the original being in Bold Street.

We wanted to see the exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci drawings at the Walker, which is part of the nationwide event organised by the Royal Collection Trust. A total of 144 of Leonardo’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection are on display in 12 simultaneous exhibitions in Galleries across the country, including Liverpool and Manchester. In May 2019 the drawings will be brought together to form part of an exhibition of over 200 sheets at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace.

Arriving at the gallery, the room where the drawings were being exhibited was, not surprisingly, very busy and was hot and stuffy.


So we decided to take a look around the Gallery as we hadn’t been for a while. Here’s a few of the paintings we saw

Good Time George (2008-9)by Maggie Hambling
A portrait of her friend, Liverpool born George Melly
A view of Liverpool from across the water by L S Lowry
French cyclists with a girl (1925) by Christopher Wood
Kin Cattrall (2017) by Samiro Addo
A portrait of the Liverpool born Canadian actress by the winner of the Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year 2018
An early self-portrait by Rembrandt
A bust of Einstein by Jacob Epstein

We made our way back to the Leornado exhibition. It was still crowded but managed to look around (we’ve been in much busier “blockbusters”). There were some beautiful drawings, most of them small but full of intricate detail (magnifying glasses were provided for visitors to use). This one, the head of Leda from Greek mythology was certainly my favourite.


I didn’t take snaps of any of the others – the crowd made that difficult and the glass covering the drawings was reflective. There were a range of studies – preparatory sketches for paintings and sculptures, pages from his notebooks of anatomical and nature studies and other subjects. Some of the drawings included samples of his writing – it was tiny – famously written backwards and back to front.

You don’t often get the chance to see so many Leonardo drawings all together and I think it’s a really good initiative that they have spread them around galleries across the country. We’re off to Manchester next Saturday and hope to see some more at the Manchester City Art Gallery. I hope it’s not too crowded!

Alive: In The Face of Death at the Walker

Alive: In The Face of Death is an exhibition of photographs by Rankin (real name John Rankin Waddell) being shown at the Walker Gallery in Liverpool as part of the  LOOK/13: Liverpool International Photography Festival. It consisted of portraits of (mainly) ordinary people who were either facing, or had faced, death. Sounds morbid, but the nobility and bravery really came across.  Reading the stories of the subjects of the portraits on the captions accompanying the portraits made it clear why the title of the exhibition emphasised the word ALIVE.

This portrait is of Louise Page, a 42-year-old charity worker from Edinburgh who, when told she had terminal bone cancer that wasn’t treatable, started writing an online blog. Sadly, she died three days after she’d been present at the launch of the exhibition.

One of the other portraits was of Wilko Johnson, a favourite guitarist of mine (ex Dr Feelgood) who has terminal pancreatic cancer. On hearing the news, rather than give up and retreat into himself, he decided he’d go on a farewell tour.

The stories of many of the other people portrayed in the exhibition are equally  inspiring. Despite their terminal or serious illnesses, or the situations that they had brought them face to face with their mortality, they hadn’t given up. And although death is a difficult subject for me, I prefer to avoid thinking and talking about it, I found the exhibition very moving.

Here’s an interview with Rankin talking about the project.


Helen of Troy

Helen of Troy

Here’s another Pre-Raphaelite painting of a mythological female. This time it’s Helen of Troy, painted by Frederick Sandys, who was a friend of Rossetti. I snapped the photo when we popped into the Walker Art Gallery after we’d been to see the “Turner, Monet, Twombly” exhibition at the Tate

I haven’t been able to find out who the model was, but she is a very typical Pre-Raphaelite woman, with her long, red, curly hair and pursed lips.

Helen was supposed to be “the face that launched a thousand ships”, but with such a sour look on her face they were probably trying to get away from her! She looks more like a sulky teenager than a typical classical beauty. But it’s a favourite painting of mine – probably because it reminds me of my daughter when she was a young teenager – she had the same hair, and often had the same expression.

The Ladies on the Staircase

Hazel and Enid

From the downstairs lobby of the Walker Gallery in Liverpool there are two grand staircases which sweep up to the main exhibition spaces on the first floor. There’s a number of paintings hung on the walls of the stairwells, but a couple that always catch my eye, one on each staircase, are the portraits of two attractive ladies.

On the left hand side there’s a very coquettish portrait of  “Hazel in Rose and Gold” (1918) by Sir John Lavery. Wearing a very dramatic red coat and fur stole, her head turned flirtatiously over her shoulder, she looks very elegant and self confident.

Hazel, the subject of the portrait, who had married Lavery, who was born in Belfast, in 1910, was an American – her father was a Chicago industrialist – and the widow of a Canadian doctor. She sat for more than 400 portraits for her husband and also modelled for other artists including John Singer Sargent. She also appeared on banknotes of the Republic of Ireland from 1928 until the 1970s as the personification of Ireland based on a painting by her husband, who was an Irish Catholic and, despite being knighted in 1921, was sympathetic to Irish Independence.

Irish £10 banknote featuring Hazel Lavery as the personification of Ireland Picture source Wikipedia

The second portrait, hung on the right hand stairs “The Lady with the Japanese Gown: Miss Enid Rutherford” (1905), by James Hamilton Hay is much more demure. Her dress reflects the popularity of Japanese art and culture among artistic circles in Europe at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th Century. The subject, who was also an artist and studied at the Liverpool School of Art. married Hay in 1907, but died four years later. She was the daughter of Sir William Rutherford MP, a Lord Mayor of Liverpool,

Einstein by Epstein

David Hockney seems to be everywhere at the moment. His major exhibition at the Royal Academy has just ended and he was also in the news recently because he’s just completed a portrait on his iPad of Stephen Hawking in celebration of the latter’s 70th birthday. Visitors to the Science Museum, who commissioned it, can see the work. But anyone who doesn’t live in or near to London will probably be disappointed as, “due to copyright restrictions”, it’s not been posted on the web.

Never mind. If I want to see an artistic tribute to a great scientist then I can pop along to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool to look at Jacob Epstein’s bust of Einstein.

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Einstein sat for the portrait at a Cromer refugee camp in 1933 after he had  fled from Nazi Germany. I think it really captures how the great man looked with his wild hair and intense expression – the popular perception of the stereotypical scientist!

Speaking about the sculpture, Epstein is reported to have said

Einstein appeared dressed very comfortably in a pullover with his wild hair floating on the wind. His glance contained a mixture of the humane, the humorous and the profound. This was a combination that delighted me. He resembled the ageing Rembrandt.”

Other casts of the bust are held by the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, Huddersfield Art Gallery, The Tate, The Science Museum and the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. And pictures are available on the web, including the Walker’s website. So there’s no need to traipse down to London to see it.

The Fitzwilliam have a Fact sheet about the sculpture which can be downloaded here.

Matisse Artist’s Books at the Walker Art Gallery

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I’ve been working in Liverpool all week and on Friday, as we finished early, I called into the Walker Art Gallery on route to Lime Street station.

They’re currently showing an exhibition of artist’s books by Matisse, and it closes at the end of April, so I popped in to take a look. As usual it was free entry.

The Art Books of Henri Matisse

Like many artists, Matisse worked in different media and would try his hand with various techniques. He created around a dozen  “livre d’artiste” (artist’s books) – illustrated books published as collectible, limited editions. One of the first example of an artist’s book is William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience which merges drawings with hand written text

Illustrations from four books created by Matisse are on show in the exhibition. They’re not displayed as complete books though, rather individual pages are mounted and framed and hung on the walls.

File:Jazz Henri Matisse.JPG

Cover of Jazz (1947) showing Le clown source Wikipedia

Probably the most well known images are from Jazz, which was published in 1947. Matisse created the images using the paper cut-out technique that he developed in his later years. The publisher then reproduced them using the “pochoir” stencilling technique. The same gouache paints used by the artist were then applied through the stencil to produce the highly coloured prints.

Jazz contains some of Matisse’s most well known images, including Icare (Icarus), Le clown, Le Loup and  Le Lagon.


Icare (Icarus) Source:

Le Cirque (The circus) Source

Personally I preferred the simple, effective line drawings included in two of the earlier books Poésies de Stéphane Mallarmé,  from 1932, and Pasiphae, Chant de Minos published in 1944.


The drawings from Poésies, reproduced as etched prints, illustrate Mallarmé’s poem. They include portraits of Edgar Allen Poe and Mallarmé, and mythological images. In the book, Matisse attempted to balance the images and the text. Full-page illustrations were placed on the right hand page opposite the text, printed in 20-point Garamond italic typeface on the left hand pages.

, La chevelure [Tresses]

La chevelure [Tresses] Source:

, Hérodiade

Hérodiade Source:

, La coiffure d'Hérodiade [Hérodiade's hair]

La coiffure d’Hérodiade Source:

I thought the portrait of Edgar Allen Poe, which accompanied the poem “Le Tombeau d’Edgar Poe.” was particularly effective. Matisse has used a few simple strokes yet has created an expressive image which captures the likeness of the American author and also seems to convey something of his character.

, Portrait E. Poe

Portrait E. Poe Source:

The images in Pasiphae, Chant de Minos (1942), a retelling of the Greek legend of Pasiphaë and the Minoan bull, are linocuts and comprise simple white lines on an intense black background, which are characteristic of this printing technique.

Pages 26-27 di Pasiphae – Chant de Minos – Source

Images from the book can be viewed here.

The fourth book included in the exhibition was Poèmes de Charles d’Orléans which was published in 1950. In this case the images were printed by lithography, which means that they can incorporate several colours. However Matisse has only used a limited palette.


This was my least favourite set of prints in the exhibition. The drawings mainly consisted of variants on the fleur de lis with a few sketches of people, which were much less powerful than those in Poésies and Pasiphae.  Images from the book can be viewed here.