11 reasons why Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a true maverick

There is no one in the history of Glasgow that so symbolises and personifies its charm, edginess, and spirit of creation than Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Rightly heralded as one of the most innovative architects of the 20th century, Mackintosh, in only a few strokes of a brush or pencil, ripped up the design and construction rule book as it was known.

And in doing so, bringing a beauty to Glasgow through his work that reflects itself in a sense of pride that he was one of while encouraging people from far and wide to make a pilgrimage here to appreciate his genius.

NPG x132513; Charles Rennie Mackintosh by James Craig Annan

A man effectively forced to leave his home city by the architectural establishment of his day, who, rather than applaud his originality and foresight, often ridiculed and criticised his work.

Here’s 11 interesting facts about the man and his legacy that illustrate, beyond any doubt, why Charles Rennie Mackintosh, or ‘Toshie’ as his pals called him, was such a boss.

1. He pursued his dream from a young age

As a young boy he was inspired by nature, drawing and painting flowers and driftwood he’d collected in the basement of his home in Townhead. He began attending classes in drawing, painting, modelling and design at the Glasgow School of Art (then on Sauchiehall St) aged 15 and a year later began working as an apprentice to local architect John Hutchison.

2. He changed his name due to a spelling error

It is widely reported that Mackintosh’s name is actually spelt ‘McIntosh’ on his birth certificate but was misspelled in the 1890s. The error stuck and from then on the young man referred to himself by the surname we are all familiar with.

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3. He (willingly) kept his identity under wraps

Many buildings in Glasgow built in the 1890’s were described publicly as the work of architects John Honeyman and Keppie; buildings which were either partly, or entirely like the Glasgow Herald building (now the Lighthouse) the work of Mackintosh in his role as assistant within the firm. As we was not a ‘partner’, he wasn’t publicly acknowledged.

4. He was a risk taker

Mackintosh was engaged to Jessie Keppie, the youngest sister of the boss of his firm, but called off the engagement after falling in love with fellow artist Margaret Macdonald. Doing so was highly frowned upon at the time, and he risked both his expulsion from the firm and from the Glasgow societal circles he moved in for his choosing to pursue his love, whom he would marry in 1900.

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Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh

5. He was a born romantic

His love for Margaret Macdonald is one of the greatest love stories in art history, and Mackintosh wasn’t shy of shouting it across the rooftops. His wife was his “spirit key” who represented 3/4 of all that he had done. And while he had talent, Margaret “had the genius.”

6. He fought off heavy criticism and ridicule for his work

After the Glasgow School of Art was completed in December 1909, a local paper branded it an eyesore for the centre of the city, remarking that Mackintosh “have his bare arse whipped” for designing a building that “resembles a prison.” Newer generations of citizens even regarded the building as ‘queer’ and ‘decadent’. Remarkable for a building recognised by RIBA journal in 2009 as the finest designed by a British architect in the last 175 years.

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7. He battled dyslexia and a drink problem

Mackintosh suffered from dyslexia all his life but still managed to produce work of stunning originality and beauty. While, as an adult, he was reported to be a heavy drinker, with stories indicating that he was often found in the morning in his studio under the table clutching an empty bottle. Yet still this did little to inhibit his mastery of design and function.

8. He designed his own tartan, going against tradition

As if his design for buildings wasn’t giving him enough stick from some of his peers, Mackintosh even went so far as to design his own tartan, rejecting traditional green and red colours with his own ‘Toshie’s Tartan’ of black and white check.

9. He was suspected of being a German spy

During WW1 in August 1915 Mackintosh was locked up in jail after being arrested on suspicion of being a German spy. This was after he had aroused the suspicion of locals while staying in Suffolk by his late night walks along the coast, who thought that his use of a lantern may be him signalling out to see to the enemy. A police raid found letters written in German (to fellow artists) and he was banged up, before being released after colleagues convinced the authorities of his innocence.

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Mackintosh in later life

10. He tore up existing gender codes within architecture

During his lifetime, architectural codes denoted that within middle class homes existed a quite clear masculine/feminine divide between ‘dark’ room such as the dining room and ‘light’ rooms such the bedroom. In designing their own marital home, Mackintosh and his wife took that code and intensified it in a bold expression of their own sexual relationship.

11. His influence has extended onto the silver screen

Mackintosh’s work has featured in a dazzling array of films such as Inception, The Addams Family, American Psycho and Blade Runner – where the inclusion of his famous ‘Argyle’ chair provides a hidden meaning to the life of one of the film’s central characters. Not only that, but in Madonna’s ‘Express Yourself’ video, the singer can be seen crawling underneath a table surrounded by Mackintosh’s famous chairs.

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Mackintosh furniture in Inception (2010)

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