In the footsteps of Charles Rennie Mackintosh
by Jane Mann
Following in the footsteps of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, bagpipes announce the entrance of the Secretary of State for Scotland.
On the afternoon of November 14th, a bagpiper from Beziers strode around the ramparts of Fort Liberia, high above Villefranche de Conflent. His plaintive music filled the autumn air. An assorted gathering of French, Catalan, English and Scottish, united by an interest in the Scottish artist and architect,Charles Rennie Mackintosh, awaited the arrival of Robin Crichton, and Michael Moore MP, Secretary of State for Scotland.
The last of three permanent exhibitions along the Mackintosh Trail, with 30 landscapes reproduced in situ where they were painted, was about to be opened. As Robin Crichton, author of the brilliant bilingual book ‘Monsieur Mackintosh’, said: “Charles Rennie Mackintosh is to Glasgow what Gaudi is to Barcelona. In architecture and design he pioneered the modernist movement… at the end of his life he abandoned architecture to become a full time artist. With his wife and fellow artist, Margaret, he came on a holiday to Roussillon and stayed. Here they spent their last and possibly the happiest years of their lives. Mackintosh developed a unique style and his paintings now hang in galleries round the world. But until the Scottish Government funded a special exhibition for the Entente Cordiale in 2004, he had become forgotten and was virtually unknown in this part of France.”
Thanks to Robin this is no longer the case. The inspiring exhibition shows examples of his famous chairs, the fabrics and interior design details he created. There is a film of his life, there are photographs, reproductions and maps. The Trail itself follows Mackintosh’s footsteps from the Mediterranean coast to the high mountains of the Cerdagne. The exhibitions along the route place Mackintosh’s life within the context of the culture and life of the 1920s near the French/ Spanish border in the Pyrenees Orientales.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh had a close connection with Port Vendres where he lived and worked for the last four years of his life. However he and his wife Margaret were also part of the art scene in Collioure in the mid twenties and probably stayed a few months there. At any rate three of his paintings form part of the “Chemin de CRM in Collioure”. In their distinctive metal stands, so reminiscent of the chair backs of his furniture designs, “A Southern Town” is displayed between the entrance to the parking lot and the beginning of the path along the massive walls of the Château Royal, and two others, “The Summer Palace of the Queen’s of Aragon” and “Collioure” are placed appropriately along the Rte de Port Vendres. Margaret was remembered by René Pous, owner of the Hotel des Templiers as “the woman with the red hair”. She cut a striking figure in the clothes she designed herself and her green eyes and blaze of auburn hair. Mackintosh described her as his “spirit key. My other half…. more than half, she is three quarters of all I have done….. I had the talent but she had the genius. We made a pair.”
They they could live cheaply in the Roussillon and travelled all over the Pyrenées Orientales.
Mackintosh’s watercolours were never appreciated in his lifetime. His estate, including 31 paintings and four of his chairs was valued at £88 16s 2d at his death of cancer in 1928. A year later, his wife returned to scatter his ashes in the harbour at Port-Vendres. Under the guidance of Glasgow University and the Glasgow School of Art, the small acorn of The Scottish Government’s 2004 exhibition, has grown over 8 years with major investment from the French government, the European Union, the Languedoc Roussillon region and the Pyrenees Orientales department, to become a major attraction within the regional tourist economy.
It is a growth that owes a lot to the energy and enthusiasm of Robin Crichton. He deserved the applause that greeted his swirling kilted entrance at Fort Liberia this Wednesday.
by Robin Crichton
In 1923, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald went on holiday to Roussillon, in the South of France, to rest and recuperate. Her health was poor and as an architect and designer he had become outmoded. They were enchanted. The holiday became a permanent stay and Mackintosh rapidly developed his talents as an artist. They spent the last and possibly the happiest years of their life together in an earthly paradise. When Charles Rennie Mackintosh died of cancer, his widow scattered his ashes on the waters of Port Vendres. It was in this southern corner of France that they spent the last four and possibly the happiest years of their life together. The book “Monsieur Mackintosh” is part biogaphy, part art book and part guide book. It places as the man and his art within the context of his times and Roussillon of the 1920s. Suggested itineraries in the appendix provide a way of following in his footsteps to discover the land he knew and loved.
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Robin Crichton, President of the Association crm en Roussillon, follows in Mackintosh’s footsteps, rediscovering as he does so the culture and beauty of the region and how it influenced Mackintosh’s painting. Crichton’s own love of Roussillon shines through, and his elegiac prose sits in perfect harmony with Mackintosh’s splendid paintings.
Robin tells us a little more about the association
“The objectives of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Association are not only to make his life and works better known but also to develope cross-cultural Scottish/Roussillonais exchanges. A Mackintosh Trail runs from the coast to the Cerdagne with over 30 reproductions of his landscapes placed in situ. Interpretation centres at Palalda, Port-Vendres and in Fort Liberia at Villefranche de Conflent tell the story in three episodes. We organise concerts, talks, plays, lectures and visits to and from Scotland . We also help to organise residencies and exhibitions for professional artists (painting and sculpture) and organise watercolour painting course for amateurs.
And lots more….. Events are held mainly in French but usually end up bi-lingual!
Membership is 20 euros”
More info: crmackintoshfrance.com