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Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)


'The Little Bay, Port Vendres', 1927 (watercolor)

'The Little Bay, Port Vendres', 1927 (watercolor)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Glaswegian architect, artist and designer, was a major exponent of the Art Nouveau style. He is also associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement in the UK. When he designed a building he also designed the furniture and fittings, so that everything both inside and outside, was in harmony. His great architectural masterpiece was the Glasgow School of Art, built between 1897-99 and 1907-09.

Towards the end of his life, Mackintosh and his wife Margaret McDonald, who was also an artist, settled in the small town of Port Vendres in the south of France. 'The Little Bay, Port Vendres' is one of a series of watercolors painted there. The same harmony and balance that appear in his architectural and interior designs are equally visible in his paintings.

'The Little Bay' is composed in three distinct sections: the foreground, which is enclosed by a wall and steps; the mid-ground, which features the lapping waves, boats, huts, and a jetty; and the background, which is filled with distant buildings that rise up from the edge of the bay.

In the foreground, the artist plays with patterns that echo one another. The zigzag shape of the wall on the left recurs in its own shadow, which in turn is echoed by the shape of the stairs on the right and the shadow of the hand rail that is cast upon them.

In the mid-ground, the patterns are more complex. The elliptical curves of the waves are interrupted by the vertical reflections of the buildings on the far shore. The rhythmic movement of the waves is echoed by the arrangement of boats on the sand. These elements act as a counterbalance to the curved path in the foreground. As a contrast to all these curves, Mackintosh arranges patterns of angled lines across the mid-ground. He starts on the left with the two flag poles; moves right to the oars on the jetty; down to the planks at the water's edge; up to the masts on the boat; up further to the three long shadows on the jetty wall; and finally, ends with the parallel strips of wood nailed to the tarpaulin roof of the largest hut.

In the background, the buildings are arranged in a geometric patchwork of orange roofs with white sunlit and grey shaded walls.

The colour in this painting uses a very limited palette. Apart from the sharp wedge of blue water which is contrasted with the complementary orange of the roofs, the colours consists mostly of subdued greys. The watercolour paint is applied in very thin washes, which allows the brightness of the white paper to shine through the pigment to create the painting's luminous sunlit quality.


CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH (1868-1928) 'La Rue de Soleil', 1926 (watercolor)

'La Rue de Soleil', 1926 (watercolor)

In 'La Rue de Soleil', another Port Vendres watercolor, Mackintosh again splits his composition into three distinct strips of pattern. The top third of the painting, down to the water's edge, is an organised design of buildings and the various arrangements of windows that decorate them. They sit atop the harbour wall which is broken up with cast shadows that anticipate the reflections in the central section of the painting. Above the buildings is a softly coloured patchwork pattern of fields on the distant hills.

The mid-section of the work reflects the buildings in the rhythmic waves that wash ashore. These reflections are stretched into long vertical columns that are cut horizontally by the parallel lapping of the waves. They reveal Mackintosh's inescapable architectural instincts in the way they suggest multi-storey buildings.

The bottom section of the painting has a more lyrical quality as the reflections break up into dancing abstract patterns when they hit a more turbulent patch of water.

The whole picture is painted in soft earthy colors whose gentle harmonies reinforce the calm atmosphere of the scene and the total absence of people in these watercolors emphasise that Port Vendres was a peaceful retreat for Mackintosh and his wife.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh Notes


'Mackintosh - aged 25years', 1883 (photograph)

'Mackintosh - aged 25years', 1883 (photograph)

  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect, designer and artist, who became a major figure in the Art Nouveau movement.
  • His greatest masterpiece was the Glasgow School of Art which is still an inspiring place to study art today.
  • In his own lifetime, Mackintosh never received the acclaim he was due from his native country. He was more greatly appreciated in Europe, particularly Germany and Austria.
  • In 1923 he gave up design and architecture and moved to the south of France, where he worked as an artist painting watercolors of the landscape.
  • His watercolours have a strong sense of design that reflects his architectural interests.

Landscape Paintings - Buildings, Towns and Cities


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'Bouleternère' (1926) by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

'Bouleternère' (1926) by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.