Most of the furniture in The Glasgow School of Art’s collection consists of items designed by the renowned Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928). Among numerous items made for the Mackintosh Building on Renfrew Street, the catalogue includes furniture designed by Mackintosh between 1903 and 1906 for the new board room, and elaborate periodical desks and light fittings for the library, added between 1907 and 1909.
With the growth of Mackintosh’s posthumous reputation in the 20th century, the School became home to many important pieces of furniture that were not directly connected with the Renfrew Street building. This began as early as 1933, when the smoker’s cabinet and dining table from 120 Mains Street (the first married home of Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald) were presented by a benefactor, Mrs Napier. These items had been included in the Memorial Exhibition of the couple’s work held earlier that year in Glasgow, organised by Mackintosh’s friend and patron William Davidson. The following year, Davidson sold the house called ‘Windyhill’ that Mackintosh had designed for him and presented the School with the magnificent bookcase and other large pieces of furniture that he had commissioned for the house.
After the Second World War, the pioneering Mackintosh scholar Thomas Howarth proposed that the School should actively collect examples of the architect’s work and mount a permanent exhibition within his most famous building. An appeal was made for donors to present suitable works, and under the supervision of Howarth and the School’s deputy director, H. Jefferson Barnes, the original boardroom in the east wing of the Renfrew Street building was used to display them. It was formally opened on 17 April 1947.
With the School’s role as a museum established, further acquisitions followed. In 1950, when Miss Cranston’s Argyle Street and Ingram Street tea rooms were dismantled, chairs and other items from Mackintosh’s extraordinary interiors were presented by Glasgow Corporation. These were joined a few years later by the steel fender from 3 Lilybank Terrace (presented in 1952), the linen press with repoussé panels of beaten lead designed for John Henderson (presented in 1956) and the baptismal font from Abbey Close Church, Paisley (presented in 1965). The clock and the remarkable order desk chair from the former Willow Tea Rooms were purchased at some point before 1960.
The Davidson family continued to enrich the collection with donations. As well as more furniture from ‘Windyhill’, the descendants of William Davidson presented items from an earlier Davidson house, ‘Gladsmuir’. Outstanding among their gifts was the ‘Vanity’ mirror with its frame of beaten lead made by Margaret and Frances Macdonald in collaboration with James Herbert MacNair. Originally owned by the Mackintoshes, the mirror was bought from them by William Davidson in 1919. It is now on long-term loan to the Hunterian Art Gallery, where it hangs in the entrance hall of the Mackintosh House and makes a major contribution to this faithful reconstruction of the Mackintoshes’ last Glasgow home.
As well as furniture designed by Mackintosh and made during his lifetime, the collection contains facsimiles of Mackintosh’s board room chairs for the Renfrew Street building made in 2005 by Bruce Hamilton Furniture Makers.
Courses in furniture design began at the School in 1929, though furniture design classes seem to have been taught from the early 20th century with lectures by, for example, E A Taylor. This is represented in the collections by the presence of furniture drawings made by students in the early 20th century, and some pieces of furniture designed by students. Among the latter is the board room table made in 1952 to a competition-winning design by James Stevenson Hooper. This was intended to be ‘in keeping with the Mackintosh tradition’, and it is therefore a notably early example of the deliberate revival of Mackintosh’s style.
Alas, a large part of the collection was destroyed on 23 May 2014 in a fire that gutted the library wing of the School’s Mackintosh-designed building in Renfrew Street. The catalogue entries for these items have been kept, but they have been amended to record what was lost in the fire.