BALTIMORE — Charles Rennie Mackintosh designed furniture and buildings, created the decor for 19th-century tearooms around his home city in Scotland, produced lovely watercolor paintings and influenced late-19th-century aesthetic movements including art nouveau.
An exhibit revolving around Mackintosh’s artistic world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries has moved from Britain to the Walters Museum of Art.
About 165 objects fill “Designing the New: Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style,” which runs through early January.
The exhibit contains both artworks that influenced Mackintosh and the other three members of his “group of four” and works that were influenced by them, says Jo Briggs, one of the exhibit’s curators.
Mackintosh and his friend and fellow artist-designer James Herbert MacNair married sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald, respectively. All four worked as artists in a similar style; their work looms large in this exhibit.
“I kind of think of this exhibit as a branching tree,” Briggs says. “We’ve got Mackintosh at the center, but it spins out into all the people who were around him in Glasgow.”
Mackintosh’s style, and that of his wife and the MacNairs, is characterized by grid lines that are clearly seen both in the high backs of Mackintosh’s famous chairs and in his design for the Glasgow School of the Arts building. Their style also contains sinuous human figures and the curving floral designs found in the art nouveau movement.
Briggs considers a group of large posters by Mackintosh and James MacNair, using art nouveau-style figures to advertise the Glasgow School of Art and local music events in the late 19th century, to be “star objects” in the show.
Briggs notes visitors will see “a lot of textiles and work by women artists in the exhibition,” along with book designs that “reached a really broad audience.
“There was an idea at the time (that Mackintosh was designing) that art could really reform society and improve cities. So, posters, books, tea rooms, libraries, schools” were supposed to bring people out of their difficult living conditions and improve their lives, Briggs says.
Visitors will see decorative mirrors, light fixtures, wallpaper patterns, murals and furniture Mackintosh designed for a series of tea rooms in Glasgow run by Catherine Cranston.
Midway through the exhibit, these appointments are arranged as they would have been displayed in one of the spaces within one of the Glasgow tea rooms.
One of the other highlights of the exhibit, Briggs notes, was created by Margaret Mackintosh. The large painted panel, titled “The May Queen,” once decorated the ladies’ luncheon room at Cranston’s turn-of-the-20th-century Ingram Street tea room.
The panel contains five female figures in pink and green against a beige background. But visitors should take a close-up look at the work; the figures are outlined and decorated with twine, beads, mother of pearl and other decorative elements that only show up on close inspection.
Visitors also shouldn’t miss the group of Mackintosh’s early 1920s watercolors near the end of the exhibit, including a subtle bouquet of pink, white and red flowers titled “Pinks” and an earth-tone townscape of the French fishing village of Port Vendres.
The exhibit is bookended with objects that would have influenced Mackintosh’s style — including bright arts and crafts style tiles and decorative Japanese sword guards called tsubas — and the furniture, paintings and book covers designed by students who learned their craft at the Glasgow School of Art and were influenced by its designer — Mackintosh.