Charles Rennie Mackintosh – La Rue du Soleil, Port-Vendres (1926)

Impoverished after World War I and lacking commissions, Charles Rennie Mackintosh moved to Port-Vendres – a small port in southern France – to start anew. He had previously achieved success as an architect, even winning the competition to design the new Glasgow School of Art. Versatile in his talents, the Scotsman also designed furniture and was known for his interior design skills. But by 1924, he had had enough, and decided to commit fully to his painting. His wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh – an artist herself – was, as always, by his side.

Port-Vendres, a Mediterranean fishing port close to the border with Spain in the Pyrénées-Orientales department, offered the couple a respite from the high society life in which they had been immersed in London and Glasgow. In France, Mackintosh relished the simplicity and peacefulness of the small, fortified villages that he called fairyland and the sunny, warm weather – a clear departure from London’s fog and damp.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh- la-rue-du-soleil-port-vendres-1926
Charles Rennie Mackintosh – La Rue du Soleil, Port-Vendres (1926)

Among the watercolors that the Scotsman produced in his final years, while living in southern France, is La Rue du Soleil, Port-Vendres. In this painting Mackintosh devotes two thirds of the composition to the Mediterranean, with the dwellings and high hills of Port-Vendres receding in the background. The stylized manner in which the water was rendered – resembling stained glass –  reminds us of the artist’s past as a designer and architect. Most importantly, perhaps, the blue of the sea has been replaced by elongated reflections of the buildings, revealing the interconnectedness between humans and their environment. While Mackintosh was wholly capable of rendering the landscapes before him with accurate detail, he also infused them with his own imagination to achieve a unique visual impact.

10 thoughts on “Charles Rennie Mackintosh – La Rue du Soleil, Port-Vendres (1926)

  1. I have stared at this painting for quite some time and all it does is irritate me. That’s because the reflection takes up about 75% of the canvas and I have no idea what is being reflected. I don’t see anything that looks like anything on shore even taking into consideration that the reflections are elongated. Oh well, I’ll go have a look at some of his other works.

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    1. Ha! Are you sure you’re not overthinking it? No need to give him another chance if you feel so strongly about this. I think, in general, it’s difficult to appreciate watercolors.

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    2. It is quite unusual how one’s eye is forced to look at the reflection. I always find it interesting how someone’s eye can be led around a painting.

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  2. Dear Gabriela, I adore his paintings much more than his architecture…The unusual composition, the painterly glass effect, his signature riding a wavelet…simply wonderful …and the under-rated art of his wife and sister-in-law is worth an entire essay (perhaps I need to work on this one day).
    Thank you for providing me a small break from my much less visually exciting British Architecture course 🙂

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    1. Wow, Ingrid! You’re actually studying British architecture at the moment. Talk about timing… Hmm, I haven’t seen yet the works of his sister-in-law (nor her husband’s). But I really hope you’re going to write about Margaret Macdonald soon! Merci beaucoup pour ton commentaire. 😉

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    1. Yes, the way Mackintosh rendered the water is pretty much a deal breaker: one either likes it or not. There is no way to get around that. I prefer to look at it as a whole, in an abstract way, instead of literally.

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