Credit Jessica Harris

A fun guide to discovering art nouveau in Glasgow

By Sydney Martin

Sydney examines Glasgow’s art nouveau scene and where you can experience it first hand.

Art nouveau is one of the most recognisable art movements in modern art. Beginning as a reaction to the stiff and academic art style of the 19th century, art nouveau is mostly characterised by its strong sense of movement, drawing a lot of its inspiration from the natural world. While the movement was international, with prominent artists coming from all over the world, it had very strong roots in Britain, and Glasgow was one of the most important centres. 

A unique brand of art nouveau, called Modern Style, was developed by a group known as the Glasgow Four, which included renowned architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, her sister Frances, and her husband Herbert McNair. Other groups also included the Glasgow Girls and the Glasgow Boys. These artists all operated in Glasgow around the turn of the century. 

The style, born from the economic boom that occurred around the late 1800s, was mostly inspired by the industrial revolution and modernist ideas, as well as Japanese style art. It also developed its own unique motifs, with geometric styles being common as well as the repeated use of the rose. With these ideas, the artists experimented with a large variety of mediums, including painting, interior design, architecture, and illustration. 

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was the most prominent artist of the group, as he gained international recognition for his building designs, with his signature use of rose and leaf motifs as well as a strong geometric pattern found in much of his work. He worked in close collaboration with many artists involved in the scene, and there are multiple places around the city that still stand today as important examples of his work and the larger Glasgow style.

The Kelvingrove Museum

Just a short walk from the University of Glasgow campus, it contains the largest exhibition of the art nouveau style. It has multiple galleries full of some of the most well-known artists of the period. Not only does it have an entire exhibit dedicated to the Glasgow Boys, but it also contains numerous works by the Macdonald sisters and Mackintosh. It provides a wonderful overview for those who may be unfamiliar with the work, and a nice viewing experience for those who are. 

Glasgow School of Art

While not an art museum, the Mackintosh building of the Glasgow School of Art is one of the projects that solidified Rennie Mackintosh’s reputation as an international architect. Beginning construction in 1899, the building now houses the Mackintosh School of Architecture. It is a classic example of the Mackintosh architect style and, despite multiple fires, still stands today. 

Willow Tea Rooms

The Willow Tea Rooms are the only set of tea rooms designed by Mackintosh that still exist today in Glasgow. Originally commissioned by Catherine Cranston, the rooms have undergone reconstruction to keep them as true to their original state as possible. The decor of the rooms follows a series of different themes often found in Mackintosh’s style; darker, more masculine rooms as well as lighter, more feminine rooms. Today, all the rooms have been restored and the site still functions as a tearoom.


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