- Place of origin:
Mackintosh, Charles Rennie, born 1868 - died 1928 (designer)
- Credit Line:
Given by the Glasgow School of Art
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
British Galleries, Room 125, Edwin and Susan Davies Gallery, case 3 
This high-back chair is one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's best-known designs. The parts are carefully shaped so that they alter in plan or section: most extraordinary are the back legs which are rectangular in plan at the base and then curve and taper upwards until they are circular in plan at the top. An explanation of the chair's appearance and design sources is not simple.
The chair was originally designed by Mackintosh for the Luncheon Room of the Argyle Street Tea Rooms in Glasgow. The owner, Kate Cranston, commissioned Mackintosh and the interior designer George Walton to decorate and furnish the rooms in 1897.
Ownership & Use
Mackintosh used the same chairs in his own flat, which was designed by his wife, Margaret Macdonald, at 120 Mains Street, Glasgow in 1900. This example may have come from the dining room. It was one of six that remained in the collection of Margaret Macdonald upon her death in 1933.
Design & Designing
Many of Mackintosh's designs for the Argyle Street Tea Rooms had their roots in traditional furniture types - ladder-back chairs, deep settees, wing chairs. Although high-back chairs were fashionable around 1900, there is no obvious historical precedent for this particular design.
High backed stained oak chair with drop-in seat. The top rail is in the form of an oval splat pierced with a crescent shape suggestive of a bird in flight. The splat pierces the uprights of the chair, which are themselves shaped from oblong at their base to circular section at the top. The back of the chair is attenuated so the top rail is above the head of the sitter. The elongated back uprights, continuous with the back legs, together with the long back splats that extend below the seat rail to the low stretcher, accentuate the height of the chair. The drop-in seat is upholstered and rests on corner blocks within the frame. The rear stretcher of the chair is a large oak block, straight above with a crescent shaped curved base. This contrasts with the pairs of narrow dowel stretchers on the sides and between the front legs.
The construction of the chair has been altered subtly in a way that affects its appearance. Originally the back splats were screwed to the back rail of the seat from below the seat. This effectively pinched the splats into the seat invisibly, giving them a slight curve into the lumbar region of the sitter. At some point, probably to relieve associated pressure on the mortices securing the splats into the oval top rail, these screws have been removed. The back splats are now about 1cm behind the back rail of the seat, and have no inward curve.
Place of Origin
Mackintosh, Charles Rennie, born 1868 - died 1928 (designer)
Marks and inscriptions
The frame of the chair is stamped or inscribed with a number. However, at the time of writing this catalogue entry, the chair is not available for inspection. Gareth Williams, 17 June 1999.
Height: 136.5 cm, Width: 50.3 cm, Depth: 45.5 cm
Object history note
Mackintosh originally designed this chair as part of the commission to furnish and decorate the Luncheon Room of the Argyle Street Tea Rooms in Glasgow. The owner Catherine 'Kate' Cranston commisioned Mackintosh and George Walton to decorate the rooms in 1897. The spatial arrangement of the Luncheon Room was undertaken by Walton who divided the long narrow room with 1.5 metre high partitions. Billcliffe suggests Mackintosh designed the high backs of the chairs so as not to be overwhelmed by the architecture (Billcliffe, 1979, p.47).
Sixteen chairs of this design are visible in contemporary photographs of the Luncheon Room, although more chairs are known to have been made at a later date as a additions or replacements.
In 1900, shortly after completing the Luncheon Room, Mackintosh married Margaret Macdonald and the couple set up home in a flat in 120 Mains Street, Glasgow. A contemporary photograph of the interior of the dining room shows a chair of this model.
This chair was one of six that remained in the collection of Margaret Macdonald upon her death in 1933. This provenance suggests that this is one of the chairs used by the Mackintosh's in their home in Mains Street around 1900 (and at later homes), rather than a chair used in the Argyle Street Tea Rooms.
Billcliffe records that Mrs Napier inherited the chairs from Margaret Macdonald, or acquired them from her estate. She presented them to the Glasgow School of Art in 1933. This chair was given to the V&A by Glasgow School of Art in 1958.
High-backed oak chair, drop-in upholstered seat, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Britain, 1897-1900
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Billcliffe, Roger. Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs. London and Guildford; Lutterworth Press, 1979 256p., ill. ISBN 0 7188 2376 1
Wilk, Christopher (ed.). Western Furniture 1350 to the present day. London: Philip Wilson and V&A, 1996. 232p, ill. ISBN 1 85667 443 5
Baker, Malcolm and Brenda Richardson (Eds.). A Grand Design: The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Baltimore: Harry N. Abrams and The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1997, 432p., ill. ISBN 0 8109 3399 3
Baker, Malcolm and Richardson, Brenda, eds. A Grand Design : The Art of the Victoria and Albert Museum. London: V&A Publications, 1997. 431 p., ill. ISBN 1851773088.
Greenhalgh, Paul Ed., Art Nouveau : 1890 - 1914. London: V&A Publications, 2000. 449 p., 2.21pl.
Labels and date
CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH
Oak, upholstered seat
The Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh was celebrated in Europe in the early 1900s, but his significance was overlooked in Britain until the 1950s (the V&A's first acquisition of his work was in 1956). A widespread recognition of his importance came only with the V&A's Centenary exhibition in 1968, ten years after the acquisition of this piece. Mackintosh had designed chairs of this rectilinear, elongated form for Miss Cranston's tearooms in Glasgow. When he married fellow artist and designer Margaret Macdonald in 1900, the couple re-used the design for their own dining chairs (of which this is probably an example). [pre March 2001]
No maker is recorded for this model of chair. Roger Billcliffe suggests Francis Smith may have made replacement and additional chairs for the Argyle Street Tea Rooms, which are distinguishable from the first group of chairs (like this one) as they are of thicker construction. See Billcliffe, 1979, p.47
Reason For Production: Commission
Staining; Joining; Upholstering
ELISE; Furniture; Woodwork; Scotland
Furniture and Woodwork Collection