Charles Rennie Mackintosh (b. Glasgow 1868- d. London 1928) left school at 14 and began to train as an architect. In 1889 he joined the firm of Honeyman and Keppie, continuing to attend evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art. This was important not only for his artistic development, but also personally, for it was there that he met his future wife, Margaret Macdonald (1864-1933). She and her sister Frances were talented artists, and with Mackintosh and his friend Herbert McNair they became known as ‘The Four’. The young artists contributed significantly to the distinctive style of decorative art then developing in Glasgow.
Mackintosh went on to have a brilliant but brief career as an architect, most of his commissions being completed in and around Glasgow between 1896 and 1911. His major works include Glasgow School of Art, The Hill House, and the remarkable tea room interiors for Catherine Cranston. In the early 1900s, Margaret Macdonald worked with her husband on the decorative detailing of his interiors.
Mackintosh left Honeyman and Keppie in 1914 and moved to England, firstly to Walberswick, Suffolk, and then to Chelsea. During this time he focussed on watercolour painting, and took up textile design. In 1923 the Mackintoshes left Britain for the south of France, where his painting took on a new vigorous form. He returned to London in 1927 and died there the following year, unknown to all but a few. He is now recognised as one of the most important architect- designers of the late 19th/early 20th century.
An unknown friend, possibly Francis Newbery, Headmaster of the Glasgow School of Art, recommended Mackintosh to W. J. Bassett-Lowke in 1916, as the right man to renovate the early 19th-century terraced house which Bassett-Lowke had bought as his first marital home. As far as is known, Mackintosh never visited Northampton during the remodeling and decoration of 78 Derngate. All discussion was conducted by correspondence and in person, when Bassett-Lowke was in London on business. However, it is believed that he visited a couple of times later, probably in connection with the redecoration of the lounge-hall c. 1921/22.
Pamela Robertson, Professor of Mackintosh Studies at the Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, says: “78 Derngate is of major importance in Mackintosh’s career. In terms of creative content, it is his most significant piece of design work after leaving Glasgow. The interiors strikingly and successfully combine visual impact with, for its day, high-tech infrastructure and the efficient and hygienic use of space. In its practicality and efficiency, the guiding hand of Mackintosh’s most demanding, knowledgeable and progressive patron, W J Bassett-Lowke, is clear.”