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Hidden Mackintosh frieze

Pauline McLean | 21:25 UK time, Thursday, 10 March 2011

Charles Rennie Mackintosh is an unlikely knight in shining armour, galloping to the rescue of the Glasgow Art Club.

As a young apprentice, he applied for membership and was turned down.

Then his carefully crafted wall frieze - of purple swirling thistles on a sage green background - was plastered over by club members at the turn of the 20th century. Why?

Theories abound but perhaps the frieze overshadowed the work hanging on the gallery walls?


Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze

Artist's impression of the Charles Rennie Mackintosh frieze

James MacAulay, who recently published a biography of Mackintosh, wonders if the artists who ran the club simply didn't look after it well enough.

"Artists aren't known for their level of care and once it was damaged by water, they may have thought it easier just to paint over," he says.

Wouldn't anyone have protested?

"Mackintosh wasn't widely liked in Glasgow art circles, so I don't think they would have cared too much."

Add to the mix the fact that his colleague John Keppie, who was a member of the Glasgow Art Club, may have had a strained relationship with Mackintosh - professionally and personally (Mackintosh broke off an engagement to his sister Jessie) and you begin to see why no one stepped up to save the frieze from a layer of plaster.

Design rescued

More than a century later, it's a different story. According to recent research, the frieze is still carefully preserved beneath the plasterwork.

It can't be removed without further damage but the details of the design have been rescued and it's hoped the club can recreate the simple A/B pattern on top of the existing plasterwork.

"It would put us on the Mackintosh trail," says the club's Vice President Connie Simmer. "People would come from all over the world to see that."

It may also help the club's attempts to modernise for the 21st Century with a £1m makeover. They still have £200,000 to raise - and are hopeful that the frieze and plans to throw their doors open to the public will help with that.

Meanwhile, the original frieze will remain dormant beneath the plasterwork - at least until techology develops.

"The reason for stopping where we are is we could cause damage, says Ranald MacInnes, Principal Inspector for Historic Scotland.

"It's possible we will develop the technology which will allow us to bring back this frieze without damaging it. Not now, but perhaps in the future."

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