Music Cabinet (1898)
Charles Rennie Mackintosh
For Mrs Pickering of Braxfield, Lanark
Previously not known if executed, discovered January 2013

 

BACKGROUND

 

Recently discovered, this mahogany music cabinet was designed for a Mrs Pickering as shown in Charles Rennie Mackintosh's watercolour design of 1898. Ellen Pickering was the daughter of John Anderson, the owner of Scotland's largest department store, the Royal Polytechnic (now Debenhams) on Argyle Street. Ellen married Robert Pickering of R&Y Pickering's of Wishaw, a major locomotive manufacturer of the time.

 

Argyle Street 1900, looking east from Jamaica Street

Argyle Street 1900, looking east from Jamaica Street.

 

R Y Pickering & Co. Carriage & Wagon Builders

 

This cabinet was commissioned when Glasgow was at its creative Victorian height where two families involved in design, retail and heavy engineering, chose Mackintosh. Opposite the Royal Polytechnic, a certain Miss Cranston also received designs for her Argyle Street Tea Rooms that same year. It is interesting to think of the social and business connections being made in this thriving city.

The Pickerings moved to Dumfriesshire and it was there in the 1950's that this piece was last seen at auction. It reappeared at a small country auction in January 2013, where it was spotted by the present owners after recognising it from the watercolour. This new discovery once again shows the genius of Mackintosh's designs in yet another genre and it is now back in Glasgow after 115 years to be displayed for public viewing for the first time.

 

The Watercolour Design

 

DESIGN

 

This cabinet was created when Mackintosh was aged 30 and has similar features to another musically inspired work - the music room organ in Craigie Hall in the south side of Glasgow, designed in 1897.

Made for a wealthy patron, this music cabinet displays the highest level of cabinetmaking skill using Cuban mahogany & ebony cabochons. It has beautiful and subtle details and after 115 years it is in excellent condition. All testament to Mackintosh's design and the skill of the cabinetmaker.

All Mackintosh's work has intrinsic symbolism and is open to various interpretations. Similar to his drawings and architecture, Nature and Spirit exist in the essence of this piece, form and function being one, such is the genius of Mackintosh.

At the centre of the arched base, a seed can be seen. This rises up to the gentle mounds at the base of the glass representing Earth where it sprouts and grows, becoming a stalk and first leaves, flowering at the apex of the glass nestled inside the triangle. This triangle points upwards to the three ebony cabochons and the Sky above - represented by the expansive and beautifully tapering cornice.

There are many subtle features to discover when being with this piece: the beautifully tapering and gently bowing vertical columns, the different textures of the clear glass, the way the horizontal line under the cabinet door appears like one continuous wave, moving in and out of the plane. The ebony cabochons; perhaps they represent seeds on the wind?

There are ingenious construction methods used. For example the door is constructed from ten pieces of wood. Onto four back sections six sinuous skillfully carved sections have been overlaid. And then three ebony 'seeds' have been carefully inlaid. The triangle shape is carved out of one section of wood.

The original embroidered, or stencilled curtain for the lower half of the cabinet is long lost. There are plans to recreate this panel.

Mackintosh was enjoying a very busy and productive period when he designed this. It is an intriguing and sensual piece of furniture, with universal meaning and appeal, made in Victorian Scotland by a cabinetmaker as yet unknown to us. It is as original and beautiful now as it was then.

 

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