Design for an artist's house and studio in the country

M174 Design for an artist's house and studio in the country

Date: 1899–1900
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

The drawings for this project are almost certainly those for an 'Artist's Cottage and Studio' that Mackintosh exhibited at the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts in the spring of 1900 (536). This suggests they were made in late 1899 or early 1900. Mackintosh made a complementary set of drawings for an Artist's Town House and Studio, presumably around the same time. The drawings give almost no idea of setting, and both designs were probably 'ideal' schemes, not intended to be built. They seem to reflect Mackintosh's anticipation, in the months leading up to his marriage in August 1900, of a shared domestic and creative life with Margaret Macdonald: Hermann Muthesius, who published them in 1902, wrote that they 'refer to the home desired by the artist couple, and thus have a singular interest'. 1

It was Muthesius who identified this as a country house and its companion as a town house. Apart from the presence of a dovecot, however, it is not immediately clear that this building is in the country, with its constricted plan and narrow, walled back yard. The white roughcast walls and green shutters with heart-shaped piercings recall C. F. A. Voysey. Unlike such Arts and Craft architects, however, Mackintosh does not emphasise the sheltering roof of the house, which is virtually hidden behind horizontal parapets. Instead, he focuses attention on its basically cubic shape, from which three tall, buttress-like chimneys emerge. The battered walls have very few projections and the seamless envelope of roughcast wraps over the tops of parapets and chimneys, as if the whole building might have been turned out of a mould. The projecting window with one canted corner, nestling into the angle of the chimney on the E. front, reappears in the design for a town house, and is a feature Mackintosh would later reuse on the entrance front at The Hill House. The other windows are mostly small, and positioned more for external effect than internal convenience.

A sheet of sketches on tracing paper in The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, includes a rough plan and elevation of an earlier version of the design. 2 The sketch plan is essentially the same as the finished version, but the sketch of the W. elevation has a different arrangement of windows and a symmetrical pair of chimneys flanking the front door. The sketch elevation shows chimneys on the N. and S. elevations too, and a pyramid roof visible above the flat parapet, crowned with a large and elaborate finial.

The unadorned walls and almost monolithic character of Mackintosh's design led Muthesius to compare this small house – improbably – with the pyramids of Egypt. 3 The critic of the Glasgow Herald was less complimentary: 'Mr. C. R. Mackintosh's "Artist's Cottage and Studio," No. 536, certainly does not lack simplicity in mass and outline; if original and interesting it is somewhat enigmatical; we have, indeed, heard it described as "a set of drawings for an armoured train".' 4 This was a topical reference: armoured trains were being used in the South African war at exactly this time, and illustrations in the British press showed them to be crudely utilitarian, with small rectangular openings (for guns) in their otherwise windowless sides. 5

B/W photograph of armoured train, South Africa, 1900, from 'The Graphic', 15 September 1900 p. 382B/W photograph of drawing of armoured train, South Africa, 1899

A house based on Mackintosh's design was eventually built c. 1990 at Farr, near Inverness, by Robert Hamilton Macintyre. 6

Notes:

1: Hermann Muthesius, 'Die Glasgower Kunstbewegung: Charles R. Mackintosh und Margaret Macdonald-Mackintosh', Dekorative Kunst, 5, March 1902.

2: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41843 (M174-005). The sheet has been laid down and the sketches are on the verso, but they are visible from the recto.

3: Hermann Muthesius, 'Die Glasgower Kunstbewegung: Charles R. Mackintosh und Margaret Macdonald-Mackintosh', Dekorative Kunst, 5, March 1902. A more apt comparison might be with the adobe buildings of N.W. Africa and the S. of North America, but there is no evidence that Mackintosh knew these.

4: Glasgow Herald, 26 April 1900, p. 8.

5: E.g. Graphic, no. 1564, 18 November 1899, p. 696; no. 1569, 23 December 1899, p. 853; no. 1607, 15 September 1900 p. 382.

6: Glasgow Herald, 14 September 1994, Scotland's Homes supplement, p. 1.