Great White Hope

  

Great White Hope

Beloved, reviled – and not only by Glaswegians – Glasgow isn’t just the Industrial Revolution nor the Victorian slums. Founded in the sixth century, its forebears pushed back the Romans. In Glasgow, controversial Scottish historian and biographer of Edinburgh Michael Fry takes on the history of the great city from the Celts to Celtic. Read on for an exclusive extract.

THE OPENING ceremony for the new Glasgow School of Art took place on December 15, 1909. Presiding over it was Sir James

Fleming, who for a quarter of a century had been chairman of the board of governors. Once a student at the school, he afterwards
rose to be the city’s main manufacturer of crockery. He made a fortune that allowed him to patronize a wide range of charities –
a typical curriculum vitae for someone of the Glaswegian commercial elite. Another dignitary present was Sir John Stirling
Maxwell, a scion of the older landed class, an even more eminent public figure with even wider artistic interests, including the
superb collection of Spanish paintings he kept at his residence of Pollok House. Sir John moved a vote of thanks to the architect
of the school, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, saying he ‘had the real faculty of being able to adapt a building for the purpose
for which it was really intended’, the present example being ‘a conspicuous success of that kind’.1 Mackintosh expressed his
thanks and on behalf of his firm, Honeyman & Keppie, presented Fleming with a jewelled silver casket containing a decorative
signed scroll – probably of his own design, for it was in the style of the Viennese Secession, the avant-garde artistic movement
that counted him as one of its own, though it was otherwise little known in Glasgow.
 
The celebrations went on for three nights, centred around packed performances of a masque, The Growth of Art, put on by the
director of the school, Francis Newbery. Glaswegians love to party, so we can assume they made these revels something to remember.
Nobody seems to have paid any attention in London, but the events would have been noted among the circles of Mackintosh’s
friends and admirers in Paris or Vienna, in Brussels or Turin. There was a review in New York’s modernist journal, International Studio:
 
The architect. . . a former pupil, has impressed his strong individuality on the building. At the same time the evidences
of care and thoughtfulness in adapting the various parts to their special purposes are many and striking. The system of
lighting has been carefully considered, and a novel kind of window introduced. The studios are large and well planned,
and every possible facility is provided for careful study. A special feature of the celebrations was the exhibition of work
by eminent artists who studied formerly at the school, or who have been identified with its work. 
 
Glasgow was by now a city of European rank, in fact the continent’s fourth biggest in terms of population, and could play its own part in international cultural developments. Along with Barcelona, Hamburg, Paris, Prague, Riga or Vienna, it had become a powerhouse of Art Nouveau – the reaction against the academic art of the previous age, inspired instead by natural forms and structures. Glasgow’s own input, the Glasgow Style, also arose from synthesis, of bourgeois enterprise and artisan respectability, of ostentatious sophistication and delicate naturalism. To other influences we must add a sense of this being an industrial community with aesthetic requirements of its own.
 
Read on here.
Glasgow by Michael Fry is available in hardback and ebook now.