In a 1902 rant against “Scotto-Continental ‘New Art’” largely directed at Mackintosh, the critic H. F. Jennings talked of “extravagance bordering on insanity,” “lunatical topsy turvydom,” and the pursuit of novelty at the expense of comfort and utility. Although the materials and construction methods used by this architect and designer were not technologically innovative, on a more abstract level the dark, sleek form of this chair can be read as a poetic response to the industrial culture of Glasgow, once called “the Workshop of the World,” and as an attempt to give physical form to the sense of risk and drama implicit in the city’s boom/bust economy. The chair was designed for one of the famous Glasgow tearooms commissioned by local businesswoman and temperance supporter Kate Cranston. It also appeared in the 1900 Vienna Secession exhibition and in the home of Mackintosh and his artist wife, Margaret Macdonald.
Gallery label from Shaping Modernity: Design 1880-1980, December 23, 2009–July 25, 2010 .
A Visit to Miss Cranston’s Tearooms, 1897
Miss Cranston’s Glasgow tearooms were a must for visitors. In a letter to his wife, the English architect Edwin Lutyens recounted how the artist James Guthrie had taken him “to a Miss Somebody’s who is really a Mrs. Somebody else. She has started a large Restaurant, all very elaborately simple on very new school High Art Lines. The result is gorgeous! And a wee bit vulgar! … It is all quite good, all just a little outré.” The Miss Somebody was Kate Cranston, an imaginative and generous patron of emerging designers, several of them women, who gave ordinary citizens public access to chic, progressive design.
This elongated chair was designed for one of Miss Cranston’s Tearooms in Glasgow. Grouped around dining tables, the chairs created an intimate conversational space and the dark oval headrests served to frame the broad fashionable hats of female tea drinkers. In 1900 the chair was one of several tearoom designs that Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald incorporated in their first home as a married couple and was also exhibited in their installation at the Vienna Secession. These contexts challenged the conventional separation of public and private and of masculine and feminine spheres of influence.
Gallery label from Designing Modern Women 1890–1990, October 5, 2013–October 1, 2014.