CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH (1868-1928)
CEREMONIAL KEY FOR THE OPENING OF THE GLASGOW SCHOOL OF ART, 1899
painted cast and wrought iron, made by George Adam & Sons, Havelock Street, Glasgow, the key with swollen cylindrical shaft and terminal of square outline, cast and pierced with totemic motif, the pierced top rim suspending a planished silver plaque with chain, bearing the inscription WITH THIS KEY/ SIR JAMES KING BART./ OF CAMPSIE, L.L.D. D.L./ OPENED THE DOOR OF/ THE GLASGOW SCHOOL/ OF ART. DECEMBER 20TH/ 1899., the silver plaque hallmarked Glasgow 1899 and with indistinct maker's marks, possibly James Reid & Co., Glasgow, the whole contained within original oak presentation case with velvet lining (2)
Key 20cm long, 4.8cm wide; Pendant 5.2cm square; Total length with chain 28.5cm; Box: 27cm x 2.5cm x 10.5cm Estimate £20,000-30,000 + fees Provenance: Sir James King Bart. of Campsie and by family descent
Literature: Buchanan, William 'Mackintosh's Masterwork: The Glasgow School of Art', Bloomsbury 2004
Moffat, Alistair 'Remembering Charles Rennie Mackintosh: An Illustrated Biography', Colin Baxter Photography Ltd., 1989
University of Glasgow: 'Mackintosh Architecture, Context Making and Meaning' http://www.mackintosh-architecture.gla.ac.uk
Glasgow School of Art Archives
Note: This remarkable object, a key for the opening ceremony of Glasgow School of Art in 1899, was designed by the architect of the new school, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. As an architect and designer Mackintosh is seen as a 'key transitional figure from the historicism of the 19th century to the abstraction of the 20th century'. With his masterwork the new Glasgow School of Art of 1899 and 1910, came a building that has come to symbolise his achievement as an architect. It speaks to this transition, with its roots in the Scottish tradition of building but with the influences of many including English Vernacular architecture, the architecture of the Arts & Crafts Movement and the Cult of Japan.
The architectural competition for a new School of Art took place in 1896. The previous year the Bellahouston Trustees, a group of Glasgow businessmen and public officials who managed an estate of nearly £500,000, agreed to buy the Renfrew Street site for £6000 and present it to the School, with an additional £4000 for the building fund, on condition that the School raised a further £6000. Eight Glasgow architects were asked to take part in a competition for the new School, including John Honeyman & Keppie, where Mackintosh was employed as a junior draughtsman. Sir James King and Sir Renny Watson were appointed to assess the plans.
The winning entry, submitted in Mackintosh's hand, was John Honeyman & Keppie. It had become clear to all the competing architects that there were not sufficient funds to complete the building as the trustees had wanted so it was reluctantly agreed that work should proceed only on the central and eastern half of the building only. Building work commenced in 1897 and by December 1899 the first phase of the School had been completed.
The minutes of the board of the School of Art record the elaborate preparations for the opening of the new school in the early months of 1899. "Sir Francis Powell to ask if Princess Louise could be induced to come about the middle to end of October" records one entry. In the end, Princess Louise was unavailable and, after some deliberation by the board it was decided to ask Sir James King to open the school. Sir James King (1830-1911) had been the Lord Provost of Glasgow from 1886-9 and was the chairman of the 1888 Glasgow International Exhibition. As well as running his own family business he was a director and chairman of the Clydesdale Bank and played an active part in the public affairs of Glasgow, including as a trustee of the Bellahouston Trustees, which contributed to generously to the building of the new school.
The minutes later commented that "…at the suggestion of the headmaster (Francis "Fra" Newbery) it was recommended that the function should take place towards the end of the year including the Christmas holidays, when for a week or 10 days the Public might be invited to view the school, and where an exhibition of student's work could be made in the main rooms".
And so the stage was set and a date of 20th December decided upon. The minutes go on to describe the events of the day, including the crucial moment when the key, designed by Mackintosh, opened the building; "Representatives met in the Corporation Galleries at 2.30 o'clock - where they were received by the Chairman and Governors, and having adhibited their names to an illuminated document prepared by Miss Ann Macbeth a student of the School - were presented to the Hon the Lord Provost Samuel Chisholm.
A procession was then formed - walking to the front entrance of the New Building, where a wrought iron key was presented on a white satin cushion by little Miss Mary Newbery to Sir James King Bart. of Campsie who then performed the Ceremony of unlocking the door. Miss Elsie Newbery at same time presented a bouquet to Mrs Chisholm.
A large party of ladies and gentlemen, on the invitation of the Chairman and Governors, were assembled in one of the class rooms, the platform being fully occupied by the numerous Representatives present…the whole Company (then) proceeded to inspect the premises and were further entertained with a light refreshment. The same evening a Re-union of students took place in the rooms which was largely attended and a most enjoyable evening was spent. A varied programme having been provided."
This contemporary account is almost entirely verified by the same little girl when she gave an interview, at 92 years old, to the author Alistair Moffat in 1985. Unlike the Board of Governors Mary Newbery (Sturrock) remembers some of the details the officials missed.
"When Glasgow School of Art opened in 1899 I remember a grey shady afternoon. Not a big crowd but quite an assembly of people arriving at the school and going into the first hall. After we'd been there a bit, a certain amount of talk and then we were all shooed out. Everybody stood out on the steps. Then there was another pause, then I'm afraid there were speeches. I don't remember what they said I just remember waiting. Then I was shepherded up holding a small, oblong, pale, pearly silk cushion with a silver fringe round. It was oblong so as to be suitable to hold the special key of the front door. This cushion was made by Mrs. Mackintosh and my mother.
Thinking about this lately, the formal ceremony would be arranged by my father who had a touch of pageantry. He liked formal things done properly. Then the door was unlocked and in we went. There was a feeling of cheerful achievement. I don't remember Mackintosh being present at the ceremony but I'm sure he must have been there somewhere in the building. When he did the work on the Glasgow School of Art he was only a draughtsman in Keppie's office. Then he was made a junior partner. But in all these jobs, Keppie always maintained they were done by the firm.
I think Margaret must have got the cushion home because it would have been very suitable for us to play with. But the cushion was very fine. The thing is the Mackintoshes were perfectionists and they couldn't have an ordinary key. The door had a special plate and to open that interesting door of the new School of Art there had to be a proper key and that key had to be laid on a special cushion, and they couldn't have just bought a Victorian cushion for a Mackintosh key. That's the thing - Mackintosh wasn't all that fussy, as they said he was, but to get things right he had to design them. I remember the key quite clearly now, shining pale in this grey afternoon when it was raining slightly, a drizzle, a real Glasgow afternoon. I was six."
How the key was commissioned is unclear. It may be that Newbery, as the architect of the ceremony and his "touch of pageantry", commissioned it from Mackintosh, and perhaps also paid for it. An entry in the Job Books dated 26 April 1900 notes an invoice from the blacksmith and metalworker George Adam & Son for '£2 10s 0d'. The entry also reads 'Key for opening (Newbery)', just under an entry for the same maker for the Fleming Memorial for £39.0.0, also marked '(Newbery)', further suggesting his personal involvement. George Adam established his firm around 1874, and whose firm became George Adam & Son when his eldest son, James joined the firm in 1896. At this time the work the firm was additionally described as 'art metal works' and now also undertook 'gates, railings, roofing, casements etc. Many of the decorative metal brackets on the front of the school, the aluminium totems and the balcony for the headmaster's balcony were made by the firm as the accounts show. The iron key is skilfully wrought with its totemic square terminal enclosing overlaid plant motifs is pierced with a series of circular apertures and painted black. Attached to the key by a chain is a planished silver commemorative plaque, probably applied after the ceremony. It is engraved with an inscription describing the key and its part in the opening of the School. The silver is hallmarked Glasgow 1899 and the engraved lettering almost exactly matches the typeface used by the School of Art at this time, for example on the cover of its Prospectus and its Annual Report. The maker's mark, which is mis-struck, was possibly for James Reid & Co. A silver and enamel commemorative Quaich with the same maker's mark was made for the school by Dorothy Carleton Smyth, William Armstrong Davidson and Margaret De Courcy Lewthwaite Dewar. Sold in these rooms it is now held at the Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery in Glasgow (Lot 52, Taffner Collection, 7th September 2012). Also engraved on the plaque is a thistle and a leaf scroll within incused squares. The key and its plaque are mounted in a handmade oak presentation box, with a fitted interior lined in velvet to hold the key, presumably made as a presentation to Sir James to commemorate his part in the proceedings.
What is clear from all of the contemporary accounts is that Mackintosh is barely mentioned. He is certainly not credited as the architect and was not involved in any of the labyrinthine speeches and ceremony, or in any of the minutes - that fell to John Keppie as was the custom. Writing to his fiend Hermann Muthesius after the laying of the foundation stone the previous year he bemoans his anonymity; "You must understand that for the time being I am under a cloud - as it were - although the building in Mitchell Street here was designed by me the architects are or were Messrs Honeyman & Keppie - who employ me as an assistant. You will see that is very unfortunate for me, but I hope, when brighter days come, I shall be able to work for myself entirely and claim the work as mine". Those brighter days did come and by the time the second phase opened in 1910 he was finally recognised as the architect.
Sold for £40,000
(buyer's premium included)