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BOOK

REVIEW

Monsieur Mackintosh: The Travels and Paintings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in the Pyrénées Orientales 1923-1927 By Robin Crichton.Luath Press, 2006. £15

If you are wondering where to take your next holiday, Monsieur Mackintosh may provide inspiration. When Mackintosh and his wife Margaret set off for France in 1923, they were in frail health and had very little money.

Mackintosh's architectural career was over; the Architectural Review had recently dismissed his work as 'curiously old fashioned'. But, as described by Robin Crichton, a Scottish film producer, the French adventure was to prove a quiet triumph in terms of creative achievement and personal happiness.

Their first visit was experimental. They started in Perpignan, travelling through Amélie-les-Bains, perhaps in search of a cure for Margaret's asthma, then on to Palalda and Prats-de-Molo, before turning back to Collioure. After a ying visit to London, they returned and continued exploring. In the winter of 1925, they settled at the Hotel du Commerce in Port-Vendres. The town was a busy commercial port, in contrast to nearby bohemian Collioure. The Mackintoshes kept to themselves. Mackintosh liked to paint in solitude and never mastered French.

Thirty-eight watercolours survive. Apart from a few ower paintings, they are unpeopled landscapes or townscapes, stylised planes of form and colour attractively crowded together. They would have made powerful posters.

Mackintosh often exercised artistic licence, moving a lighthouse into view, repositioning a rocky outcrop or adding an extra layer of houses to strengthen a composition. Margaret described the region as 'this lovely rose-coloured land', (or was it him? Crichton seldom says which of the two he is quoting). However, the colours Mackintosh used are much colder: Celtic grey, blue and especially green, a colour to which he was addicted: 'that's one of my minor curses - green - green - green'.

Monsieur Mackintosh is a clever package - part art book, part biography and part travel guide. Contemporary and archive photographs of the views Mackintosh painted are printed alongside reproductions of the watercolours, and Crichton describes the history and traditions of the towns the couple visited. The works are numbered in the text and these numbers reappear on maps of suggested itineraries at the back of the book, but not next to the actual reproductions, so you have to do a lot of page ipping to link maps to images.

This may be irritating when using the book as a guide.

In his brief commentary, Crichton has brought the elusive Mackintosh to life: his irascibility with wind, ies and idle local lads; his eccentricity - he had a predilection for corduroy trousers ('splendid stuff. . . for rock, gravel, stones or mossy green turf'); and his deep love for his wife.

If you had mentioned Mackintosh's name in PortVendres a few years ago, people would have thought you were referring to a computer. No longer. The final link in the Mackintosh heritage trail is now officially on the map.

Deborah Singmaster is co-director of Footnotes Audio Walks

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