Early Rennie Mackintosh work to get public viewing

The Tree of Influence is one of Mackintosh's most abstract works. Picture: Contributed
The Tree of Influence is one of Mackintosh's most abstract works. Picture: Contributed
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A COLLECTION of early Charles Rennie Mackintosh watercolours made for a handwritten journal is to be given a rare public viewing.

The watercolours were included in The Magazine, which was created by Mackintosh, then in his mid-20s, and his contemporaries in the late 1890s to be circulated among a group of friends and colleagues who were associated with the Glasgow School of Art (GSA).

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The paintings are now part of GSA’s Archives and Special Collections and will be part of the school’s 2014 exhibition programme, which was announced today. Completed over a three-year period, the four volumes of The Magazine were a compilation of a diverse selection of illustration, paintings, photography, creative and critical writings by artists including Frances Elizabeth Macdonald, Margaret Memps Macdonald and Jack Butler Yeats.

Mackintosh expert and gallery owner Roger Billcliffe, who has written a book on the designer’s watercolours, said: “It’s probably the most imaginative and free-ranging work that he did. There are two pieces in particular, The Tree of Influence and Tree of Personal Effort, that were probably his most abstract works and they show a decorative hand that he was exploring, with all sorts of overlapping shapes and playing on organic forms and stylising them in a way that he moved towards in some his architectural ornament.”

Mr Billcliffe said that the volumes had given Mackintosh an opportunity to investigate ideas and produce work which was not going to be criticised in the public arena.

Mackintosh biographer Thomas Howarth was the first to note the existence of the volumes in the 1940s, referring to them as “scrap books”. He also said they had “little real artistic merit” and were attempts “to evolve an original style”. The works had appeared in exhibitions during the 1950s but their significance and quality were not realised until the late 1960s.

“It’s the grounding in many ways for much of the decorative metalwork and stencilling that he put on his furniture for the next ten years,” Mr Billcliffe added. Although his contribution to the volumes was largely illustrative, Mackintosh also provided his own written commentary on the painting Cabbages in an Orchard alongside a slightly tongue-in-cheek piece poking fun at art critics.

The show, part of the larger Generation exhibition which opens in July, is the result of a research project by former GSA student Graham Fagen.