Gravestone for James Reid, Kilmacolm

M147 Gravestone for James Reid, Kilmacolm

Address: Kilmacolm Cemetery, Port Glasgow Road, Kilmacolm PA13 4SF
Date: 1897–8
Client: Unknown
Authorship: Authorship category 1 (Mackintosh) (Mackintosh)

Colour photograph of female face from gravestone for James Reid

James Reid (1837–1897) was telegraph superintendent of the Glasgow & South Western Railway from c. 1876, and lived at Fernie Bank, Kilmacolm, from c. 1882. 1 According to the inscription on his gravestone, it was erected by his widow, Margaret Henry Reid. 2 However, the choice of Mackintosh as designer was probably due to William Davidson, who had married the Reids' daughter, Jane Steel Reid, in 1889. 3 On Mackintosh's drawing for the gravestone, the name of Reid's widow is wrongly given as 'Jane'. 4

The top right-hand corner of the base was inscribed with the initials 'CRM' and the date '1898', now obscured by undergrowth, but clearly visible in an early photograph. 5 Margaret Henry Reid did not die until 1907, after which her name and dates were added seamlessly to the main inscription, presumably under Mackintosh's direction. Davidson's own grave is next to that of the Reids.

Colour photograph of front of gravestone for James ReidColour photograph showing  three-quarter view of gravestone for James Reid Historic photograph of James Reid gravestone Illustration of gravestone for James Reid from 'Dekorative Kunst', 5, March 1902, p. 215

Mackintosh greatly admired 17th- and 18th-century headstones, and he drew many examples on sketching holidays in England. 6 According to W. S. Moyes, his design for the Reid gravestone may have been influenced by one such drawing of a headstone at Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, dated 1740. 7 The drawing referred to by Moyes appears to be one of those reproduced in the British Architect, two years before the Reid commission, accompanied by a letter in which Mackintosh praised the Chipping Campden headstones: 'They all seem to be the outcome of the village mason's own ideas: ideas which are free yet reserved; ideas which are exceptionally interesting because of their dangerous closeness to debased or bad art; ideas which would put to shame the designs of architects and others which make the modern graveyard hideous.' 8 A page in one of Mackintosh's sketchbooks shows what appears to be a different stone from Chipping Campden, which has the same distinctive 'ears' as the Reid stone. 9

Colour photograph of sketch by Mackintosh of headstones at Chipping Campden

The decoration of the Reid stone has compositional similarities with contemporary decorative and graphic works by Mackintosh, the Macdonald sisters and James Herbert McNair, such as Frances Macdonald's Mirror: Honesty of c. 1896 (Glasgow Museums), and Mackintosh's bookplate for John Keppie (Glasgow School of Art Library). The British Architect described the pair of figures flanking the inscription as 'two angels in low relief guarding the grave', explaining that 'they take the form of the poppy – the emblem of sleep'. 10

Colour photograph of female face from gravestone for James ReidColour photograph of foliage carving from gravestone for James ReidColour photograph of foliage carving from gravestone for James Reid

Mackintosh's only known drawing for the stone was presumably intended for presentation to the client, or for exhibition. 11 It does not give enough information for a carver to realise the design in three dimensions, so can hardly have been a working drawing. Mackintosh is said to have made a full-size clay model for the carver to work from, as he did for his later Talwin Morris monument in Dumbarton and Orrock Johnstone monument in East Wemyss. 12 The making of a full size model follows the practice of contemporary sculptors, as does Mackintosh's initialling and dating of the finished work that was carved from his design by other hands.

Historic photograph of James Reid gravestone

Fourteen years after the Reid stone was made, Mackintosh's drawing for it was published along with illustrations of the Morris and Johnstone monuments in the British Architect. 13 The illustrations were accompanied by a letter from Mackintosh, in which he decried the shortcomings of contemporary gravestones and pleaded for simplicity and the avoidance of sentimentality:

The present-day graveyard is surely the most ugly and depressing place in any modern town or village, because of the assemblage of tombstones of an inartistic and thoughtless character. ... 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.

A report on the condition of the Reid stone 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: Information from Glasgow Post Office directories.

2: The full inscription reads: 'ERECTED BY / MARGARET HENRY / REID IN / REMEMBRANCE OF HER / HUSBAND JAMES REID / BORN 29 AUG 1837 DIED 4 OCT 1897 / TELEGRAPHIC SUPDT G & SWRY / MARGARET HENRY / REID DIED 13 JULY 1907 AGED 71'.

3: Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society Newsletter, 61, Spring 1993, p. 3; The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: letters from descendants, 15 October 1999 and 9 November 1999.

4: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41928 (M147-001).

5: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 52619. The date and initials are less clearly visible on a photograph published in Dekorative Kunst, 5, March 1902, p. 215.

6: For example, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 53012/28, GLAHA 53014/27, GLAHA 53014/32.

7: University of Toronto, Robarts Library: letter from W. S. Moyes to Thomas Howarth, 29 April 1947, B96-0028/017 (13).

8: British Architect, 44, 22 November 1895, pp. 359–61.

9: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 53011/30.

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

11: The Hunterian, University of Glasgow: GLAHA 41928 (M147-001).

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

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

14: A copy of the report (MBS16) 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.