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Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 - 1928)

Lot 40: A Highly Important Ebonised Mahogany Writing Cabinet

Christie's

November 6, 2002
London, United Kingdom

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Description

Designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Walter W. Blackie Esq., Hill House, Helensburgh, 1904 Rectangular top above a pair of cupboard doors and ogee apron, the doors, each set with panels of mother-of-pearl squares and white metal lock plate and loop handle, enclosing fitted interior of pigeon holes and a sliding writing surface, with central leaded glass panel possibly by Margaret MacDonald Mackintosh, and three arches inlaid with ivory, the door interiors inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the bow-fronted sub-structure with a central recess flanked by twin vertical dividers each surmounted by a pair of ovals set with mauve ceramic 44 3/8in. (112.2cm.) high; 37 1/8in. (94.2cm.) width when closed; 711/4in. (181cm.) width when open ; 181/2in. (47cm.) deep PROVENANCE Walter Blackie, Glasgow Mrs. Walter Blackie Dr. Thomas Howarth Christie's London, 17th February 1994, Lot 138 - where acquired by the Fine Art Society on behalf of the present consignor LITERATURE Roger Billcliffe, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings and Interior Designs, New York, 1979, p. 155, Cat. No. 1904.13, interior of Mackintosh's own desk, a similar example; p. 156, Cat. Nos. D1904.14, D1904.15, D1904.16, the three designs submitted to Walter W. Blackie for selection Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, The Mackintosh House, Glasgow, 1987, pp. 46-49 - Mackintosh's own desk Victor Arwas, Art Nouveau. From Mackintosh to Liberty, the Birth of a Style, London, 2000, p. 30 EXHIBITION Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) Memorial Exhibition, Toronto, 18 November-31 December 1978, p. 111 Spring'94, The Fine Art Society, London, Cat. No. 49 Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Glasgow Museums Travelling Exhibition, 25th May 1996 - 12th October 1997, pp. 248 & 249, pl. 175, Cat. No. 105 Mackintosh and the Glasgow Style, Travelling Exhibition in Japan, 15th September 2000 - 18th February 2001, p. 82, Cat. No. 59 NOTES Designed in late 1904 and made in 1905 (Alex Martin quoted œ19.10.0d for a desk on 28 November 1904 and was paid œ20.15.6d for same on 27 April 1905; on the same date H McCulloch & Co. were paid œ1.5.0d for coloured glass inlays) The most important piece of furinture made for the Hill House and one of the most celebrated designs of Mackintosh's career. Before 1904 Mackintosh had designed a number of writing cabinets or desks which were almost all handled in a different fashion from the tea room furniture. With the latter, the emphasis was on making multiple examples quickly and cheaply but the various desks were either made for Mackintosh's own use, for exhibition interiors or for private clients. Cost was not a major factor for these designs and Mackintosh was inclined to use more expensive finishes and inlays than were to be found in the tea room chairs and tables. The simplest of these designs is the oak desk, painted white, which Mackintosh designed for himself around 1900 (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow). Despite its boxy shape and applied carving the use of two panels of beaten metal distinguished it from other more simple oak pieces. A more elaborate version of this desk (untraced) was shown at the 8th Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in December 1900. More sculptural forms and the addition of leaded glass panels as well as a metal panel showed Mackintosh moving towards a more sophisticated format. The desk for Michael Diack, designed circa 1900-1901 (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow), established a general pattern for later desks, with inlaid panels of metal and glass and an internal decorative panel in the centre, usually made of metal and coloured glass, leaded together often in the form of one of the Glasgow roses which so characterised Mackintosh's work between 1900 and 1905. The two display cabinets which Mackintosh designed for 14 Kingsborough Gardens, Glasgow (Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto and private collection, London) established a new level of sophistication in his cabinet furniture. Mackintosh was obviously pleased with the design, a combination of white paint, silvered door interiors and elaborate glass panels, as he reproduced them for his own use (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow). At the same time he designed a large writing cabinet for Fritz W„rndorfer (Museum fr angewandte Kunst, Vienna) which is the most elaborate of all such designs. Not only does it possess the leaded glass and metal panel in the centre of the interior but also two internal and two external gesso panels made by Margaret Macdonald. All the furniture made for W„rndorfer is more ornate than its counterparts for Scottish clients. This cabinet is no exception, but its bulk and its black finish do not seem to sit easily with the more feminine aspects of its decoration. The writing cabinet which was designed for The Hill House is a development of these earlier designs, resolving many of their weaknesses and confirming Mackintosh's ability to produce designs rivalling those of his Viennese friends working with the Wiener Werkst„tte. Blackie had shown some resistance to the provision of more elaborate pieces in his own bedroom and the house, when occupied in the summer of 1904, was remarkably sparsely furnished. Mackintosh seems to have persuaded him to commission at least two more elaborate pieces for the house, this desk and a cabinet for the Drawing Room. Mackintosh must have been disappointed at Blackie's intransigence during 1903 when the house was approaching completion and his attention was turned towards the provision of furniture. He must have hoped that Blackie would take over the role of the fictitious Art Lover, for whom the Haus eines Kunstfreundes had been designed in 1901, but unfortunately the Blackie publishing firm suffered several financial setbacks after work started on the house, Blackie naturally exercised some restraint over the interiors until his problems were resolved. When he was eventually given the go-ahead, Mackintosh produced two of his most accomplished designs - this desk and a display cabinet - no doubt expecting that Blackie would extend his commissions to other areas of the house. His hopes, however, were never realised. Mackintosh's drawings (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow) for a writing cabinet for Walter Blackie for The Hill House date from September 1904, after Blackie had taken possession of the house. Three separate designs exist and it is not known whether these were produced together to offer Blackie an alternative or sequentially as a result of criticism and discussion of early ideas. In one of these the height of the cabinet shows strong similarities with the W„rndorfer desk but there are no external decorative panels, only an inlay of fruitwood around the lower doors. A second drawing shows a very severe cabinet with a fall-front, similar to that designed for Michael Diack and the unexecuted design of January 1904 for the Headmaster's Room at the Glasgow School of Art. A third drawing shows the cabinet as executed, along with its own chair and candlestick. With its inlays of mother-of-pearl and coloured glass and its interior panel of glass and metal, the writing desk is a more conspicuously luxurious and well made piece than much of Mackintosh's contemporary furniture. Among his Glasgow patrons, only Miss Cranston at Hous'hill allowed him such freedom. This seems to be the first time that Mackintosh used mother-of-pearl in his furniture and it is used to considerable effect, massed in dozens of tiny squares on the front of the doors and inside them to define a large decorative square. Over each of the three internal sections a shallow arch is edged in ivory and the central decorative panel, in leaded glass and metal, is the most elaborate and successful of all such panels in Mackintosh's oeuvre. In its subject matter it reveals Margaret's influence on his husband and may have been made by her. Its figurative design contrasts with the more abstract arrangement of the internal dividers inside the desk and with the overall geometric emphasis given to other inlaid decoration. Mackintosh's pleasure with the design is reflected in his decision to make a similar desk for his own use (Hunterian Art Gallery, Glasgow). Although his own desk is basically similar to Blackie's he has made subtle changes. The body of the desk is taller, presumably to accommodate architectural papers and journals, the external mother-of-pearl is replaced by fruitwood and the central interior panel is a simpler design based on his 'weeping rose' motif. Later desks designed by Mackintosh lack the sophistication of this design. Those designed for the bedrooms at Hous'hill are simpler in silhouette and in decorative complexity than the desk for the Hill House. Much of the Hous'hill furniture reflects Mackintosh's growing interest in the geometric aspects of furniture design, the beginning of which can be seen here in the Hill House desk. That design aesthetic however, never reached the level of visual complexity of this design as Mackintosh failed to secure the kind of commission which would have given him the opportunity to elaborate. When such a client did materialise, W. J. Bassett-Lowke in Northampton from 1915, Mackintosh had moved in a different direction altogether. The Hill House cabinet therefore remains as the key achievement of the central phase of his Glasgow period.

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November 6, 2002, 12:00 AM EST

London, United Kingdom