The Magazine

Spring, 1896, Page: 20a

Image Dimensions: 32 x 25 cms

Page Dimensions: 32 x 25.5 cms


Title: The Tree of Influence

Date: 1896

Inscription: Drawing, pencil and watercolour on grey paper, 32 x 25 cm, [removed from The Magazine by 1968], inscribed signed and dated vertically, right, “THE. TREE. OF. INFLUENCE –THE TREE OF IMPORTANCE–THE SUN OF / COWARDICE. CHARLES– RENNIE MACKINTOSH– JANUARY 1895”

Keywords: trees; symbolism;

Material: Pencil and watercolour

Commentary: The title suggests that this watercolour is full of symbolic content and probably relates to the designs The Shadow and The Tree of Personal Effort… on the following pages. It employs three colours applied with different degrees of saturation, using a wet–in–wet technique which creates accidental puddles of pigment. The drawing also features a large number of pencil lines many of which are difficult to decipher beneath the dominant water colour. The title seems to suggests that the work is a comment on Mackintosh’s experience as a young architect and artist and indicates that the design has three elements, the ‘Sun of Cowardice’, which must be represented by the dull red circle, the ‘Tree of Influence’ and the ‘Tree of Importance’. If the two trees are intended to be separate entities, however, Mackintosh has only indicated one trunk, so perhaps they are two aspects of the same tree. The green tree form, possibly the ‘Tree of Influence’, consists mainly of a trunk terminating in a T–shape, like a gibbet. It has several branches some of which produce circular forms, possibly representing fruit, and reminiscent of the ‘cabbages’ in Mackintosh’s Cabbages in an Orchard. The central purple form, which, with those on either side, possibly relates to the ‘Tree of Importance’, are reminiscent of a cuirass, an armoured breastplate, which hangs from the horizontal form delineated only in pencil below the ‘T’ shape of the other tree. This may be another reference to the ‘clothes’ mentioned in Mackintosh’s explanation of the contents of the orchard in Cabbages in an Orchard: importance being signified by dress which confers a protective persona on an individual The other two purple shapes appear to be attached to two branches of the green tree. With their well–defined spurs they are similar to the flower head of the aquilegia or columbine, and if Mackintosh was using the contemporary symbolism of The language of Flowers, these could be taken to represent both folly and the desire to win. Any interpretation of this watercolour can only be conjectural, but its title at least suggests a negative criticism of what Mackintosh observed in contemporary society.