We were delighted to present an eclectic series of sketchbook drawings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in our October 2023 DESIGN Since 1860 auction. The collection offered an insight into different aspects of Mackintosh's oeuvre, illustrating both his methodology as a designer and the role the natural world played in his process.
The sketches belonged to James Meldrum, having come from the collection of his father William Meldrum, Mackintosh’s friend and fellow student at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1880s. James Meldrum notably staged the 1933 Memorial Exhibition of Mackintosh’s work in the MacLellan Galleries on Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, along with his friend William Davidson. After James’ death, his widow Eva gifted the vast body of the William Meldrum Collection to the Mitchell Library, Glasgow. The series of works shown here were gifted to the Glasgow Art Club in the 1980s and appeared on the open market for the first time in our October 2023 sale.
Mackintosh blazed a difficult trail. He felt profoundly that in order to innovate, the practises of art and architectural design must be synonymous, stating that ‘The Architect must become an art worker… But to do this requires conviction’. This holistic, fundamentally artistic viewpoint was met with little enthusiasm by his architectural peers in Glasgow at this time. Fortunately for us, Mackintosh held true to this conviction at great personal cost, producing groundbreaking and timeless artworks, buildings, interiors and objects. Sadly, famously, he died long before wide recognition of his genius.
His eye for detail and distinctive, encompassing aesthetic is apparent in Lot 259 ‘Scale Drawing for Proposed Memorial Stone to Lt. Col. Oswald Arthur Gerald Fitzgerald CMG’. Though the memorial did not ultimately entirely follow Mackintosh’s design specifications, it remains an interesting example of the way in which Mackintosh could turn his hand to an extraordinary diversity of projects.
Lot 260 was a delicate design for a wall frieze. Referenced on p.66 of Roger Billcliffe’s, this sketch is a study for 14 Kingsborough Gardens in Glasgow, the property of Fra Newbery’s mother-in-law Mrs Rowat. Dating to c.1902, Billcliffe states that the design of Kingsborough Gardens was notably feminine, with detailed stencilled motifs of stylized flowers decorating the walls.
Offered was a fascinatingly diverse group of floral studies in which we see the artist employ different approaches. Mackintosh began creating flower sketches as far back as his student days in the 1880s. ‘Anemones’ was one such early example. He notes in the cartouche that the plant was found at Lamlash on Arran in 1893, presumably pressed, and then sketched three years later in 1896. These trips and the company he kept (recorded by the inclusion of his friend’s initials in many cases) were clearly important to him. The sketches represent a journal of sorts, and it perhaps speaks to a sensitivity (as well as his great precision) that he chose to depict a re-discovered flower from a past excursion.
Colour began making a subtle, delicate appearance after a visit to Lindisfarne, Holy Island in 1901. Lot 257 ‘Harebells’ was a decorative and stylised piece, unusually created entirely in watercolour with no traces of the assured and technical pencil lines that one associates with his botanic studies. Nonetheless, each brushstroke is considered and placed with intent above spontaneity.
At the other end of the spectrum is Lot 258 ‘Plant Studies’, which offers a tantalising insight into his design process. Here Mackintosh considers a cluster of appealingly shaped leaves. In the bottom right we see he has constructed a grid, sketching within it a floral form: pinned for dissection by his designer’s eye which seeks to discover his subject’s recurring natural shapes to extrapolate into pattern.
These watercolours were offered in support of The Glasgow Art Club. Here Chair of the Trustees, Alan Horn, talks about the funds will help "Established in 1867, The Glasgow Art Club provides a vibrant and creative environment where artists and lay members can gather, ex change ideas and gain inspiration. Over the years a Collection of artworks has been assembled which decorate the Club. However, the Club's mission is to promote art in Glasgow, and it faces the same financial pressures that many small charitable organisations face post-Covid. As such, it has reviewed the collection, and as these drawings hold no direct link to the Club, wonderfully special as they are, they are being offered for auction to increase the Clubs ability to focus on its core mission to promote the Arts in Glasgow and across Scotland."
Lyon & Turnbull’s Decorative Arts & Design specialists are renowned for both their knowledge and their sales of artworks conducted from London and Edinburgh and via our live online auctions. Our specialists are experts not only on design from 1860 to the present, but also on current market conditions, an essential combination to any successful auction.
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