Thursday, June 7, 2007

Living in Style

I’ve always loved the Art Nouveau style, and few did it better than Charles Rennie Mackintosh, born on this date in 1868. Whether it was architecture, furniture, typography, or stained glass, Mackintosh helped create a total environment of beauty and elegance all around him. Hill House, one of Mackintosh’s finest buildings, appears above.

Unfortunately, you can fit the sum total of my knowledge of architecture and furniture design on the head of a pin, with plenty of dancing room for the angels. However, I do know what I like, and I love Mackintosh’s furniture designs, especially his chairs. In the examples shown above, the middle design is called a Hill House chair, after the Hill House itself at the top of this post. Mackintosh integrated every aspect of his designs into a cohesive, organic whole. The people living in Hill House truly lived in style—Mackintosh’s style.

Even typography came into Mackintosh’s scope, as seen by the typeface above that now carries his name. If you come across any book on Mackintosh’s life and work, I’d bet you that it will use at some point this very same typeface, which flows with the same fluid, clean lines running through all of his works.

Finally, I’d like to remark on Mackintosh’s use of stained glass, as in the example above. His vine-like lines and flowering curves create beautiful spaces for the pure color of the light shining behind them. I remember seeing the Art Nouveau, 1890-1914 exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 2000 and coming away with a better appreciation of how Mackintosh’s work differed from that of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Whereas Tiffany exploded with unrestrained line and color, mimicking the abundance of nature, Mackintosh’s work reflects the quieter, more restrained moments of the natural world. Each style has its place in this larger concept of making every inch of our environment a thing of grace and beauty. Perhaps one day our culture will again place a value on living life art-fully.

(BTW, the best place to go for all things Mackintosh and even make a Mackintosh pilgrimage to some of his architecture, as well as the Mackintosh Church, is the official web site of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society.)

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