Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his friend and colleague James Herbert McNair met sisters Margaret and Frances Macdonald when studying at the Glasgow School of Art at the beginning of the 1890s. Together, they pioneered a radical new artistic style in the city and were known as 'The Glasgow Four'. The 'Four' later became two couples when Mackintosh married Margaret and McNair married Frances.
In the early years, McNair and Margaret and Frances Macdonald regularly collaborated artistically. They worked together on the design for this poster for the Glasgow Institute of the Fine Arts, used to promote its annual exhibition in 1895. Posters like this one certainly made an impact on visitors to the exhibition. One reporter asked 'fifteen ladies for their opinion of the posters' and they all responded 'They're awful'. The sixteenth said, 'And I think they're horrid'.
In the poster you can see two long thin figures, framed by rose briars and lilies. The eerie symbolism is typical of this new 'Glasgow' style. The figures are half-hidden by the plant stems, giving the impression those human beings and flowers are growing together from the same seed. At the top of the poster, notice the early use of symbols such as the 'Glasgow rose' and the arched winged bird soon identified with the work of The Four. You will also notice the distinctive green, pink and brown colour palette which they used.
Influences on the style of The Four include the drawings of English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and also Japanese ceramics and prints brought to Glasgow in the 1880s. At any rate, they were soon described by art critics as 'The Spook School'. Looking at this, we can see the reason why.