Charles Rennie Mackintosh must surely rank as one of the most influential architects and designers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and was a pivotal figure in the development of modernism in Europe. However, his reputation went into rapid decline in his native Scotland and in England during the early years of the century and soon commissions for new work were few and far between. His health deteriorated and with the encouragement of his wife Margaret, who was also a talented artist, he turned away from the world of architecture and design in favour of painting. This would lead him to create a series of stunning and distinctive watercolours, the subjects of which would be the landscape of the Roussillon area of south west France, including the town of Collioure.
Le Chemin de Mackintosh (The Mackintosh Trail)
In a similar way to the Fauve trail there are now panels showing many of Mackintosh’s paintings where he painted them located principally in Port-Vendres but there are also three panels in Collioure. However, this scheme is more ambitious and eventually it is hoped to erect these panels across the whole Roussillon region. Details will follow of the Collioure paintings and more information about the panels in Port Vendres and elsewhere can be obtained from the webisite of L’Association Charles Rennie Mackintosh en Roussillon (www.crmackintoshfrance.com).
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
At first the couple moved to Walberswick on the Suffolk coast, but during the years of the First World War he was regarded with suspicion because of his broad accent and also because of his connections with leading designers in Germany and Austria. They moved to London but finances became increasingly difficult as Mackintosh’s professional career continued to decline and now Margaret’s health took a serious turn for the worse. In 1923 Margaret’s mother died and left a small inheritance and the couple were persuaded to take a holiday in Roussillon, and so begins their association with the area.
They travelled by train to Perpignan, a long and arduous journey taking almost 24 hours, and this small provincial city became the hub of their world for the next four years. They travelled from here to various locations in the region including Amélie-les-Bains, a small spa town where Margaret may well have tried the treatment. Mackintosh started to paint flower studies and landscapes featuring mountain villages such as Palada and Mont Alba.
In the summer of 1924 the couple moved down to the Catalan coast and found themselves in Collioure and as there were no hotels in the town they probably rented rooms. It is possible they shared accommodation with two other English artists called Ihlee and Hereford. Undoubtedly they kept company with this lively pair and although the Fauves had moved on from the town there was still an active artistic community, the social life of which centred on ‘Le Café des Sports’ which has now been renamed ‘Les Templiers’.
The Mackintoshes probably stayed in the town for several months and during that period Charles completed at least three watercolours. They returned to England in September but only for a brief period and before the end of the year they were back in France. They stayed for a while at Ille-sur-Têt near Perpignan, before travelling higher into the Pyrénées, staying at several mountain towns including Villefranche-de-Conflent, Olette and Mont-Louis where Charles painted prolifically. After visiting the Spanish Basque country and Biarritz they retraced their steps by train to more familar territory and by the winter of 1925 they had settled at Port-Vendres, close to Collioure. They took up residence at the Hotel du Commerce and this became their base for the next two and half years.
It was in and around this busy, vibrant port that Macintosh painted some of his most distinctive work in watercolour, reinterpreting the scenes before him to produce structured and balanced compositions where line and colour create a unique vision of the world, completely unrelated to other contemporary artistic movements. It was in this work that he found both fulfilment and happiness after the disappointment of his architectural career.
Charles and Margaret returned to London in the autumn of 1927 when he was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. After surgery and radium treatment he died in December 1928. Margaret returned to Port-Vendres in May 1929 where it is said that she scattered her husband’s ashes on the waters at the entrance to the harbour. Margaret died in January 1933.
The first panel [A] is located at the beginning of the seaside path below the walls of the Château Royal close to the entrance of the car park and shows A Southern Town, 1924. It is possible that the Mackintoshes stayed in the Faubourg district of the town and this is the subject of the painting. To achieve the view shown the artist must have stood at a slightly elevated position in what is now the car park and recently planted pine trees now get in the way. However, it is still possible to identify individual buildings and apart from surface graphics and modern street furniture and road markings the view is much the same.
The second panel [B] is located at the end of Rue Jean Bart close to the diving school and looks across the bay towards the Château Royal. The painting is called Collioure, 1924 and shows the old town with Fort Mirador above it. The scene remains largely unchanged and it is certainly possible to stand almost exactly where Mackintosh stood and see almost exactly what he saw.
The final panel [C] in Collioure is located just off the road heading out of town towards Port-Vendres and shows The Summer Palace of the Queens of Aragon, 1924. The place where the artist actually stood is now in a private garden but the buildings of the Château Royal are still readily identifiable. There has been much recent building on the hills behind the town and this is the main difference between what is to be seen today and what Mackintosh saw before him in 1924.
The Summer Palace of the Queens of Aragon , 1924