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.
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 Most importantly, perhaps, the blue of the sea has been replaced by elongated reflections of the buildings, revealing the interconnectedness between humans and their environment.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.