Thursday, 1 May 2014

Charles Rennie Mackintosh-Did Liverpool Ruin His Career?

It may, or may not be true but it is certain that Liverpool played a substantial part in CRM’s life that was not at all helpful to his future or his esteem.
Picture left Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Right a very similar looking,  Herbert Mcnair
Not many people outside the art world know Charles Rennie Mackintosh had links with Liverpool or that half of the Glasgow Four actually lived there, at 54 Oxford Street.

The principal rooms at 54 Oxford St were published by the Studio magazine in 1901 in a special edition devoted to ‘Modern Domestic Architecture and Decoration’.

Herbert McNair McNair was the head of applied art in Liverpool
His wife taught embroidery and enameling.
Most of the furniture from Oxford Street was in Sudley Art Gallery before it was butchered by Dr David "Fuzzy Felt" Fleming the current Director.
They moved to Liverpool since 1899.
Here is a Mcnair design for a poster.
How they would influence the likes of Cassandra Annie Walker who worked for the Della Robbia Pottery.

The city was moving forward at a brisk pace and there was work to be had, especially for talented artists and tutors.

So important was Liverpool to CRM or so he thought, that he submitted a design for the then proposed Anglican Cathedral in 1902.

He and his wife Margaret would be able to join his soul mates. The four would be re-united perhaps.

We all love Giles Gilbert Scott’s sandstone monument but what would have been the sight that greets all those people who come to the city on easy flights now.

That comes, from all over the world. What if the other Scot, CRM’s design had been chosen.

Would it now be held, in as high regard, as the Barcelona Guadi Cathedral?

We will never know.
Would we have a structure that went way above the usual realm of architecture, something CRM, as with the Glasgow School of Art, was as capable of creating.
Such was the inner spirit of a man who could capture the spirit of an age.
Alas it was thought to play a bit safer with a more traditional design.

Mackintosh did not submit an outlandish design but for sure he would have changed it as the project went on.

Charles Reilly, later to be made a knight of the realm, who was an engineer, also submitted a design. Reilly defied the Gothic brief and submitted a classical one.
He would be appointed Roscoe Professor of Architecture in 1902.
F.M Simpson was his predecessor.
Augustus John had left the city and The Art Sheds were swept away along with its teachings of applied arts. McNair briefly taught at the Sandon Studios.

Reilly inherited a regime that was looking to the Ruskin ideals of the Gothic.

Ruskin had condemned the Renaissance and said Italian classicism was not correct styling for our nation. Even though it had long been the chosen method of build.

Waterhouse was the darling architect. Two years after his Lime Street building was erected it was covered in soot from the station trains.

Reilly thought the 19th century building of the picturesque had replaced clear thinking with sentimentality. Though he built a block of cottages, the only executed commission for Lever at 15-27 Lower Road, Port Sunlight.

They were almost Regency and were criticized because the veranda blocked out light to the lower floors. Lever himself considered demolishing them.

Reilly rejected Art Nouveau and its derivatives. But what did he build?
 America was showing the way forward.
Louis Sullivan and his pupils rebuilt Chicago and thoughts were being given to the high-rise city block style.

Mackintosh had a mixed reaction, when opened, to the now world acclaimed Glasgow School of Art.

When he started it was at the cutting edge and when he had finished construction it was labelled out of date and old fashioned.

The students seemed to hate it. Fashions were changing.

We do see the change in Mackintosh designs over the years, some of his shapes become geometric and angular almost anticipating the modern style that was later phrased as Art Deco after the 1925 Exhibition of Art Decoratif in Paris.

It was obvious that he was misunderstood by a lot of his peers. Well how were they to know that his inspiration would help mould designs by Joseph Maria Olbrich and his colleagues at the Vienna Secessionist, into world changing principles of design that would metamorphose into the Weimar Werkstatte that in turn, would influence the Bauhaus?

And we wouldn’t let him build a cathedral.

Sir Charles Reilly who would later travel with Lutyens through India, was one of the founding fathers of the first school of Urban design in the country here in Liverpool, and no sooner had he got power, he sacked McNair.

Mackintosh in 1927 called him “A bombastic second rate professor”.

Reilly had a new style of Beaux Arts. He wanted to make the city the Athens of the North.

Ironic, or even Ionic that Mackintosh Architecture, in Glasgow, is now more famous than that of Alexander “Greek” Thomson who built monumental, where they also wanted to become the Athens of the, slightly further, North.

Gavin Stamps who taught in Glasgow, says in his lecture of 9th November 1996 at the Walker Art Gallery Liverpool. “Thomson was the main ambassador of a revival style that never went away”
He went on to say that Glasgow has a grid pattern that links it closely with the style adopted in America.

Mackintosh would later go on to call Reilly, in a letter found in a letter, he said that “the American system was wrong and that Reilly did not even reproduce it effectively”, such was his hatred for the man who disliked Arts and Crafts yet wanted to be part of Lutyens.

Even though Lutyens early style was built around the same rustic ideals as that of Voysey albeit with a slightly differing tinge.

Lutyens was given a crack at the Catholic Cathedral though he only built the Crypt. Oh how I hated it, when they started the building of what Arthur Dooley christened Paddy’s Wigwam in the 70’s.

It was a whole scale shift away from the basic principles of the craftsman that previous generations had endeavoured to uphold.

It leaked like siv, like a giant colander. They tried to be different.

Maybe they too should have played safe with a recognised design, and built it out of sandstone, but it was done on the cheap.
I don’t hate it and there are a lot of people who now like it.
There is no accounting for taste. Jonathan Glancey called it a space rocket.

So what would a Mackintosh cathedral have been like?
What would have happened if Charles Rennie had been living here in Liverpool?

Would the ego of Charles Reilly with his rich patronage by the likes of Lord Leverhume the soap magnate have allowed it?

There is no doubt that some of his pupils such as Herbert Rowse left monuments for the future, in Reilly’s favoured Beaux Arts style. He later went on to adopt a Dutch style for the Philharmonic Hall.

But Mackintosh could create something special out of a couple of lengths of 3 by 2 joined together and made into a cabinet.

He had something that appeared unique with the enrichment of his designs with his Celtic roots and the ability to extract an emotion from a dead piece of timber, from a plank, and make it come alive.

There is something of the primeval about some of his designs that tap into the inner core.

Imagine him being let loose on a whole Cathedral.

However it was not to be and the city did not have a lasting legacy that would echo the links between the two great cities of Glasgow and Liverpool and their Celtic roots. The two cities at times, appear to be hued out of the same seam of sandstone that backbones the country. That gives them strength and resilience as if made from girders, that tackles adversity head on.

But how many towns are envious that Mackintosh was not one of theirs and never built for them. I must say I have a long lasting feeling that if we had a Cathedral that straddles the highest point on the Mersey by the Big Mac we would all be better off.

Was this the turning point for a career that could have taken him stratospheric to one of the greats and not just a house builder up north that, still, no matter where you look at it from, he inspired the whole of Europe.

I could ask a pertinent question.
 What did Charles Reilly build?
Hunterian collection

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