The Magazine

Spring, 1896, Page: 20e

Image Dimensions: 32 x 25 cms

Page Dimensions: 32 x 25.5 cms


Title: The Tree of Personal Effort

Date: 1896

Inscription: Drawing, pencil and watercolour on paper, 32 x 25 cm,, inscribed signed and dated vertically, right, “THE TREE OF PERSONAL EFFORT THE SUN OF INDIFERENCE / CHARLES RENNIE MACKINTOSH – JANUARY 1895”

Keywords: trees; symbolism; plants; flowers;

Material: Pencil and watercolour

Commentary: The title suggests that this watercolour is full of symbolic content. It probably relates to the designs The Shadow and The Tree of Influence on the preceding pages. ‘The Sun of Indifference’ of the title must be represented by the large circle which forms the centre of the composition and ‘The Tree of Personal Effort’ by the three trunks, replete with connected heart–shaped roots and flowers, which also contain heart forms, in the canopy above. The flowers are similar to irises and columbines, which present problems if it is argued that Mackintosh was using the symbolism of the Victorian Language of Flowers. Columbines, here seen facing one another as if kissing, would represent the desire to win, or folly, only the first interpretation seeming to fit. In ‘The Tree of Influence’, however, the columbine forms are separate, and do not relate to one another, perhaps placing more stress on the folly of individual aggrandisement. Irises in The Language of Flowers stand for ‘a message’ which seems a redundant addition to a design whose purpose would obviously be to convey a message. The Y–shaped form at the centre, whether by accident or design, is reminiscent of the female reproductive system and could represent creativity. Any interpretation of this watercolour can only be conjectural, but its title at least suggests Mackintosh’s belief in the necessity and value of personal effort, even where its fruits are not recognised.