Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Art and Design in Glasgow and Edinburgh

Now that my year abroad is coming to a close, I finally made the trip out to Glasgow to see the works of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, and Jessie Marion King. I also learned quite a few new names to add to my list of artists I admire through my travels in Scotland. While in Glasgow, I especially focused on seeing locations related to Mackintosh, such as the Willow Tea Rooms on Sauciehall Street as can be seen from the picture above I took during my visit.

One of the few sights that allowed me to photograph Mackintosh's interior design was the House for an Art Lover, which is southwest of the city centre in Bellahouston park. The house was originally designed by Mackintosh in 1901 for a competition set up by a German magazine, but it was not until 1989 that Hermann Muthesius took it upon himself to make these plans into a physical edifice. I was struck by the extreme contrast between the moods of different rooms. The Main Hall and Dining Room were characterized by dark shades of brown and purple while the Music Room was a space a dazzling whiteness. Mackintosh has used this contrast effect in other buildings. He often makes the entry of a building dark and then makes a subsequent room light and airy. One feature of the design that I found innovative were the various lighting fixtures Mackintosh used. Although every detail of the building is not perfectly consistent with Mackintosh's vision because there were discrepancies in his plans, I felt that the building was beautiful and authentic.
House for an Art Lover website


Lighting in the Music Room

The Music Room

One new artist I discovered was Phoebe Anna Traquair. What my initial impression was upon being introduced to her manuscript work was that her style seemed quite similar to William Blake's. She was born in Dublin and was inspired by the Book of Kells to illuminate manuscripts. After marrying Dr Ramsay Heatley Traquair, she moved with him to Edinburgh and has now become known as "the first important professional woman artist of modern Scotland." She went on to illuminate manuscripts by William Morris, Robert Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and others. Yet she did not confine herself to solely illuminating texts, but also worked with enamel, textiles, and jewelery and was a book designer. She was a critical figure to the Scottish Arts and Crafts movement. For more information on the artist, visit the National Library of Scotland page on her found here.

"The Victory." Panel 4 of "The Progress of a Soul" (1893-1901). Silk, gold and silver thread embroidery on linen. The National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.

"The Progress of a Soul" is a series of four tapestries created by Traquair over the course of eight years that currently finds its home in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh. She created a number of tapestry series including the "The Salvation of Mankind" and "The Red Cross Knight." "The Progress of the Soul" is her most famous and was originally conceived as a retelling of Walter Pater's "Denys l'Auxerrois" in Imaginary Portraits, but the tapestries themselves actually very loosely refer to the story. Denys is a newcomer to Auxerre who initially brings renewal to all. Eventually this golden age ceases and people begin to blame Denys for the bad fortune that starts to encompass the town. Denys goes off into seclusion with monks and there discovers he yearns to make music. He successfully builds an organ to fulfill this interest and then goes back to the town, but is unfortunately not welcomed with open arms. The story ends with his fellow citizens tearing Denys limb from limb.

The tapestries in the series display some of this pain and suffering as is apparent from the titles of the middle two pieces, "The Stress" and "Despair." In "Despair," Denys is even given a wound in his side and in this way represents Christ.

The tapestry I both enjoyed the most and had the most difficulty interpreting was "The Victory," the final piece in the series. If viewed in seclusion from the other pieces, the sex of the person being embraced is somewhat difficult to decipher. Although one's initial instinct would be to assume that the figure is female, Traquair is actually depicting a same sex embrace with Denys being taken up to heaven by an angel. Also difficult to decipher is what the figure of Denys is standing upon. Elizabeth Cumming, one of the best known critics of Traquair, writes that this is the jaws of hell symbolized through the mouth of a reptile. Prominent in this piece and many other of Traquair's works is the symbol of the rainbow. Here it is meant to represent the link between heaven and earth.

For more information on Traquair I would highly suggest reading some of the works of Elizabeth Cumming. Some I have greatly enjoyed include:
1. Hand, Heart, and Soul: The Arts and Crafts Movement in Scotland. Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd., 2006.
2."Life's Rich Tapestry: Phoebe Anna Traquair's 'The Progress of a Soul." Review of Scottish Culture 19 (2007): 63-76.
3. Phoebe Anna Traquair: 1852-1936. Edinburgh: National Gallery of Scotland, 2005.

"The Salvation of Mankind." Panel 3. Silk and gold thread on linen, 1885-93. City art Centre, Edinburgh.


  1. I really enjoyed this post, Meredith. I'm pleased that we were able to include it in this month's edition. Be sure to stop by The Earthly Paradise and see the other articles that were featured in the carnival!

  2. Thanks for running the carnival and choosing my post. I really enjoy reading your blog. It has made me aware of some great art exhibits that I might have otherwise missed.

  3. Great blog Meredith. Did you manage to get across the road from Bellahouston to Pollok House and the exquisite cedar-panelled smoking room which contains a few sublime Blake paintings?