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16 Oct 2018

Showing Mackintosh in a different light

Written by David Hopes, Head of Collections and Interiors (Policy)
Suzanne Reid (conservator) and Emma Inglis (curator) explain what makes the exhibition unique.


This exhibition is different from the normal way that we work at the National Trust for Scotland because we’ve brought the collections out of their interiors and put them in an exhibition gallery which is not normally what we'd do. The reason we’ve brought this collection out is because a big box is being built around the Hill House and we needed to take some of the collections out while that box is being constructed. So fortunately we were able to use this gallery at The Lighthouse, which is in the centre of Glasgow, so it allows us to show some of our collections to hopefully an entirely new audience who wouldn’t normally come to visit our properties. And it also allows us to show the collections in a different light. Now that we’ve taken the collection out of their interiors we’ve put them against really bold graphic backgrounds which allows them to be seen differently. We also have them under gallery lighting which again shows up different aspects of the objects in terms of the architecture of the objects and the structure and the shadows that they throw which when they’re on display at the Hill House we just don’t see because they’re part of another complete interior, sort of melded together. So it does give us an opportunity to bring certain objects out and look at them more closely and to see Mackintosh’s really structural, bold, architectural style that he applied to furniture in much more detail.

Any conservation challenges with this exhibition, Suzie?

Yes, the environment in here is really different from the environment the collection is used to at the Hill House. The Hill House is quite cool and damp and the collection is quite happy in there because it’s used to it but in here it’s very warm and dry particularly at the time when we were moving, the hot weather that we’d been having. At a lot of our properties we tend to use conservation heating to maintain our environmental conditions but in here that wasn’t going to work, the heat wouldn’t improve the environment. So we had to move the collection across making sure that it was very well packaged and allow it a good week or two to acclimatise to the environment and we’ve also introduced a humidifier which isn’t something I’ve ever had to use at any of our properties before. So we’ve been monitoring the environment in here and trying to stabilise it and bring the humidity levels down a little, up a little bit sorry, and we’re just monitoring the collection now in situ, and hopefully it should be ok. We’ll do the same when we return it, package it up very well, and we’ll let it acclimatise back to the environment in the Hill House when

In summer 2018, art and furniture from Mackintosh’s Hill House were displayed for the first time in his native Glasgow, at The Lighthouse gallery.
A walk-through of the Hill House at The Lighthouse with Emma Inglis and Suzanne Reid


Hanging the lights was quite a challenge actually. Because we had to detach them out of the house and then find a way of fixing them in situ and have them working as well. Obviously having lighting in the lampshades is a large part of how the object should look. It gave a lot of people a lot of headaches.
Rather than displaying the original portrait we decided to create it as a graphic instead, which has allowed it to be bigger and bolder. We wanted it to stand out from the wall. Mr Blackie who commissioned all of the furniture.
With the White Bedroom, originally we had wanted to move the bed out of the bedroom but unfortunately it’s a built-in feature and even the bit that can move around within the room is too large to be taken out through the doorway because it would have been assembled on site originally. So we had to settle for a mock-up of a bed instead, using graphics taken from the original but dressing it with the skinny ladies on the panel above the bed at Hill House. It sort of works alright as a backdrop to the rest of the original furniture.
This is one of my favourite bits, all of the design details from the house. Trying to narrow it down to six was a bit of a challenge. But we’ve got all of this fantastic photography of all of these beautiful features in the house. When they’re in the house they’re part of the wallpaper backdrop so you don’t really notice them quite so much. So we’ve been able to bring them forward as images in their own right.
One of the key features of the house is the lighting Mackintosh produced and we felt it was important to reproduce some of that in the exhibition, with the hall lighting and the drawing lights as well, which again cast lovely shadows, and gives the exhibition a mellow light in some of these key room sets.
We’ve also been able to bring some of the carpet flooring in, without having to take the carpets up, through the use of graphics.
And then we’ve been able to pick out individual pieces aside from the room sets, pieces that are quite iconic in terms of Mackintosh styling. This is my particular favourite, the washstand, from the Blackies’ dressing room. I think it’s just a really beautiful piece. It’s the combination of the very plain and stark outline and Mackintosh’s use of design and colour and the different materials within it; it’s just a really beautiful piece. And then we have these truly iconic ladder-back chairs which ordinarily sit in the White Bedroom in the Hill House. Really very, very fragile but incredibly beautiful and I really enjoy seeing them in this setting, where they stand out on their own and you can see the beautiful nature of the ladder back and the use of cubes which Mackintosh played with quite a lot in his interiors and furniture at the Hill House.