9352a A PAIR OF STAINED OAK DINING CHAIRS AFTER A DESIGN BY CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH FOR THE ARGYLE STREET TEA ROOM British. Circa 1900. Measurements: Height: 44″ (112cm) Width: 19 1/4″ (49cm) Depth: 18″ (46cm)
Of stained oak. The back of each surmounted by an oval top rail pierced with a swallow motif above two back splats extending to the arched stretcher, the splats flanked by tapering posts continuing to form the rear legs, the close-nail upholstered seat raised on four legs, the front legs tapering, the legs united to the front and sides by a double stretcher.
The present chairs were executed after the design by Glaswegian Art Nouveau architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928).
This particular style of chair, with high back and oval backrail pierced in the stylized shape of a flying bird, was created for the luncheon room of the Argyle Street Tea Rooms, Glasgow, circa 1898, as seen in the design drawing by Mackintosh for the Argyle Street furniture (figure 1). A contemporary photograph of the luncheon room shows the chairs standing along the central aisle of the room (figure 2). These chairs are one of the best known creations by Mackintosh and the most stylistically advanced to be designed for Argyle Street.
This design was the first of the high-backed forms to distinguish Mackintosh seating furniture, a feature with no practical function but which was incredibly innovative and which contributed to the aesthetic of the entire space.1 The tea room itself was a long and narrow space designed by Scottish architect George Henry Walton, who incorporated tall dividing partitions into its scheme. Mackintosh altered the height of the chairs with this in mind; “when the room was empty of people, the chairs stood like sentinels at the tables; and when the customers were seated, the oval panels would appear over their heads, retaining the pattern of the layout of the tables and chairs within the somewhat rigid and formal architecture of the dining room.”2
The Argyle Street Tea Room (formally named the Crown Luncheon Room) was conceived of by the Glaswegian entrepreneur Catherine Cranston, known as Kate or Miss Cranston. Her family background in the catering and hotel trade, coupled with a strong belief in the temperance movement, encouraged her to create venues where people could gather and enjoy non-alcoholic beverages. She followed in the footsteps of her brother, Stuart, who worked as a tea merchant and can be credited with opening the first Tea Room.3 “The tea-room movement was a late 19th-century phenomenon, stimulated by the emergence of prosperous urban centres populated by business people and ladies of leisure, and by the [aforementioned] burgeoning Temperance Movement.”4 Unlike her brother’s tea rooms which were simple and efficient, Miss Cranston’s vision was one of artistically distinguished social centers with an emphasis on design, cleanliness and choice and quality of food. She would go on to open three others in Glasgow on Ingram Street, Buchanan Street and the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauchiehall Street, for which Mackintosh provided the design work.
Mackintosh went on to use the Argyle Street chair design, or variations of it, for his own home. It was also showcased at the Eighth Exhibition of the Vienna Secession in 1900, the first Secession exhibit to include furniture (figure 2). Mackintosh, along with his wife Margaret Macdonald, as well as James Herbert McNair and his wife Frances Macdonald (Margaret’s sister), were invited to participate by Secession president Carl Moll at the suggestion of Viennese art collector and patron Fritz Waerndorfer. The Scottish designers, known as The Four, were given Saal X (Hall 10), which they decorated as a room setting with paneling, fittings and decoration including metalwork, glass, textiles, furniture, and paintings.
The present chairs deviate in design from Mackintosh’s originals only in their height, which is approximately ten inches shorter than the Argyle Street chairs, and in that the backrail is attached to the rear uprights by pins, the only differences according to Mackintosh scholar Roger Billcliffe.5 Having reached no definite conclusions about the group of smaller chairs to which the present pair belongs, Billcliffe finds them to be “at the very least extremely faithful, albeit smaller, facsimilies.”6 It is known that Leeds furniture makers Marsh, Jones, Cribb & Co. produced the smaller version of the chair not long after the originals were completed, from around 1897 to 1904. The smaller design is also traceable to the Leeds furniture shop Wolfson’s.
- Billcliffe, Roger. Charles Rennie Mackintosh: The Complete Furniture, Furniture Drawings & Interior Designs. New York: Taplinger Pub. Co, 1979. 61.
- “Miss Catherine (Kate) Cranston.” Mackintosh Architecture. The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, n.d. Web. 07 June 2016. <http://www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk/catalogue/name/?nid=CransC#CathCran2-back>.
- Billcliffe, 62.