Talwin Morris gravestone, Dumbarton

M314 Talwin Morris gravestone, Dumbarton

Address: Dumbarton Cemetery, Stirling Road, Dumbarton G82 2PF
Date: 1911
Client: Mrs Talwin Morris
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

Photograph of detail of Talwin Morris monument

The English-born designer Talwin Morris (1865–1911), art director for the Glasgow publishers Blackie & Son Ltd from 1893 to 1909, was an important exponent of the Glasgow Style. He was a friend of the Mackintoshes, and following his early death his widow commissioned Mackintosh to design his monument in Dumbarton Cemetery. 1

The grave lies in a prominent position, bordering the E. side of the main drive that curves N.W. from the entrance at the corner of Stirling Road and Garshake Road, about 50 metres from the cemetery gates. The grey granite monument has been significantly altered, but Mackintosh's original conception is preserved in the drawing he produced for Mrs Morris, and in a sketch and brief description published in the British Architect (see Critical Reception below). 2

Illustration of Talwin Morris monument from 'British Architect', October 1912

Mackintosh's drawing shows a double plot enclosed by a low, chamfered kerb, swooping upwards at the head of the grave where it finishes in a pair of small triangular peaks. The resulting shape is a broad, spreading M. Overlapping – or rather interlocking – with this is a projecting rectangular slab for the inscription. In the drawing, the interlocking of the two shapes is emphasised by the way the masonry is jointed: the twin peaks, the rectangular slab and the top parts of the upward-curving kerb are shown carved from a single block of stone. As executed, however, vertical joints separate the slab completely from the kerb on either side, undermining this effect. Mackintosh reportedly made a full-size model of the monument, which was then carved in granite by a 'capable stonecutter'. 3

Photograph of Talwin Morris monument from frontPhotograph of Talwin Morris monument from S.W.Photograph of Talwin Morris monument from N.W.

On the drawing, the triangular space between the peaks is shown carved with chevrons, and the same motif of twin peaks with chevron infill is repeated twice on the kerb at the foot of the grave. In execution, chevrons were also carved on the peaks themselves, but while those on the intervening triangle are grooves separated by sharp arrises, those on the peaks are round, cable-like mouldings, making a negative-positive contrast. The British Architect attempted to explain the meaning of these linked and repeated shapes (presumably on the basis of information provided by Mackintosh): 'the Morris memorial ... has, for motive (because a devoted husband and wife are to be buried here) two hearts and one soul below (at the foot of the grave), and two hearts and one soul above.' 4 The introduction of geometric ornament alongside softer, more organic curves points the way to Mackintosh's later decorative work at 78 Derngate, Northampton, where jagged angularity predominates.

Photograph of detail of Talwin Morris monumentPhotograph of detail of Talwin Morris monument

Mackintosh's design shows a cast lead panel, inscribed in raised letters with Morris's name and date of death, and a quotation from the Paisley-born Celtic Revival writer and mystic Fiona Macleod (the pseudonym of William Sharp, 1855–1905): 'Love is more great than we conceive, and Death is the keeper of unknown redemptions.' This text, from Macleod/Sharp's collection of tales The Dominion of Dreams, first published in 1899, was chosen by Sharp himself for his own memorial, as described in Mrs Sharp's memoir of her husband published in 1910, the year before Morris's death. 5 The two blank lines between date and quotation were no doubt intended for Mrs Morris's name and date of death, when the time came, although this would have meant recasting the whole panel. A full-size drawing for the panel survives, and an estimate for making it was supplied by the Scottish Guild of Handicraft. 6 It was described by the British Architect in 1912, but in its place the monument now (2014) bears matching inscriptions for Morris and his wife in painted metal letters of a standard commercial pattern. The uniform appearance of these inscriptions suggests they were carried out at the same time, after Mrs Morris's death on 24 December 1955, when, presumably, the original lead panel was removed.

Photograph of inscription on Talwin Morris monument

Mackintosh's drawing includes the slender trunk and delicate trailing branches of a weeping ash tree, planted centrally behind the grave.The faintness of the pencil marks makes it look like an incidental background detail or an afterthought, but it is mentioned in the description published in the British Architect and it seems to have been an integral part of the design. 7 Today, after a century of growth, the tree dwarfs and overshadows the monument. The kerb at the foot and sides of the grave was removed along with others in the cemetery in the late 20th century, to make grass-cutting easier. 8

Critical reception

In September 1912 the British Architect published a short article on 'Tombstone Memorials', accompanied by sketches of some 18th-century examples. Mackintosh responded with a letter, which was published as part of a follow-up article on 11 October 1912:

I see with pleasure in the issue of THE BRITISH ARCHITECT of September 6, some of your charming sketches, illustrating headstones at Cobham. Your notes regarding these are most appropriate and important. The present day graveyard is surely the most ugly and depressing place in any town or village, because of the assemblage of tombstones of an inartistic and thoughtless character. Surely here is shown the worst possible result of education – religious – artistic – and general. It is not a hopeful thought, that architects, sculptors and monumental workers (who are supposed to have had some art training) have no more influence on the general public (so far as respectful, not sorrowful, records go) than these graveyards of to-day represent. I am sending you an odd notebook of mine, showing some headstones at Chiddingstone, Penshurst, Leigh and Hever, all in Kent.

The stones at Chiddingstone are interesting, because they are of the simplest form – a slab with a good outline – (a good outline with many pleasing variations), and practically no ornamental details, which might lead the mason into some badly-executed expression of unnecessary sentimentality.

The stones at Penshurst, Leigh and Hever, are, in many cases, more fanciful, but they also have the charm of simplicity and restraint. This is not the place to discuss the bad taste of people, rich and poor, who vie with each other as to who shall have the most arrogantly ugly heap of granite, marble, or freestone erected in the name of a tombstone. But it is certainly possible that in your admirable weekly you can suggest from time to time that simplicity and sincerity may be fine, and may be art, but that thoughtless extravagance never can be either. 9

Mackintosh was here returning to a subject on which he had written to the same journal 16 years earlier: the debased character of modern gravestones, and the superiority of simple, unpretentious 18th-century ones. 10 On the previous occasion some of his sketches of gravestones at Chipping Campden were reproduced, and he may have hoped that the Kent sketches would be too, but this did not happen. 11 However, sketches of his Talwin Morris monument and his Orrock Johnston monument at East Wemyss were published along with his letter. 12 These sketches do not appear to have been made by Mackintosh himself, but his own drawing for the much earlier James Reid gravestone at Kilmacolm was also published. 13 All three monuments were favourably described in the accompanying article, and the British Architect welcomed them as evidence that in the design of gravestones there was an alternative to 'plain copyism' on the one hand, and 'extravagant eclecticism' on the other: 'It is a pleasure to give some designs to-day, which indicate refinement and thought, and show some striking originality of treatment.'

A report on the condition of the Talwin Morris monument was produced as part of the Mackintosh Buildings Survey, led by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society and carried out between 2015 and 2016. 14

Notes:

1: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letter from Alice Talwin Morris to Thomas Howarth, 11 October 1944, GLAHA 53924.

2: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41931 (M314-001); British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, p. 241, illustration following p. 246.

3: British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, p. 241.

4: British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, p. 241.

5: Elizabeth A. Sharp, William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir Compiled by his Wife, London: William Heinemann, 1910, pp. 305–6, 419.

6: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41932 (M314-002); Honeyman, Keppie & Mackintosh job book, GLAHA 53063, p. 63.

7: British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, p. 241.

8: Information from cemetery superintendent, 2011.

10: British Architect, 44, 22 November 1895, p. 360.

11: A sketchbook now in The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, GLAHA 53014, includes sketches of headstones at all the places named by Mackintosh, and is probably the 'odd notebook' referred to in the letter.

12: British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, following p. 246.

13: British Architect, 78, 11 October 1912, p. 242.

14: A copy of the report (MBS46) is held by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, Mackintosh Queen's Cross, 870 Garscube Road, Glasgow G20 7EL. The Mackintosh Buildings Survey was funded by The Monument Trust.