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Cushion cover, Jessie Newbery, about 1900. Museum no. T.69-1953

Cushion cover, Jessie Newbery, about 1900. Museum no. T.69-1953

The Scottish School was a group of artists and designers who established a new and strikingly modern style in the 1880s. They worked in Glasgow and Edinburgh creating decorative schemes in which architecture, interior design, furniture and fittings harmonised. They aimed to produce objects and environments that were suited to contemporary cosmopolitan life. The Scottish School style was fashionable from 1885 to 1915.


Elongated forms

One of the most distinctive aspects of the Scottish style is the elongated form of the designs.

Geometric forms

The Scottish style is characterised by its use of geometric forms and motifs. Straight lines predominate, but they are frequently combined with curved forms. These design elements were influenced by Japanese art.

Stylised flowers

Many designs by the Scottish School feature plant forms. Flowers were highly stylised, making them almost abstract in appearance. The rose was a particularly dominant motif.


Symbolism was used by Scottish School artists and designers to explore the human spirit and emotions. They employed subjects drawn from religion, dreams and Celtic myths to express their ideas.

Subtle colour

Scottish School artists and designers tended to employ a limited colour range based on subtle tones of pink, purple and green. Black and white were also used to create strong contrasts.

Elongated lettering

The artists and designers of the Scottish School used a very individual style of lettering.


Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928)

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was one of the most innovative architects, designers and painters of his generation. In 1893 he and friends from the Glasgow School of Art formed a group known as 'The Four'. Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair (1868-1953) and the sisters Margaret (1865-1933) and Frances MacDonald (1874-1921) produced graphic work, metalwork, textiles and furniture. Margaret and Charles married in 1900. Together they designed a series of stunning interiors for tea rooms, exhibition displays and their own homes, in which space, form and colour harmonise to create a total artistic environment.

Jessie Newbery (1864-1948)

In 1894 Jessie Newbery became head of a new department of embroidery at Glasgow School of Art. Although embroidery had been taught at the school before this time, under Newbery's direction the subject was radically transformed. Rather than copy historical examples, she encouraged her students to create more original and intuitive works. Newbery's own work is characterised by the use of textured linen and pale silk grounds, appliqué and satin stitch. Her stylised compositions often included inscriptions and the repetition of motifs such as roses.

Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852-1936)

Born in Dublin, Phoebe Anna Traquair moved to Edinburgh in 1874. By the 1890s she had become a major figure in the Arts and Crafts Movement that had been established in the city. Traquair worked in a wide variety of media including mural decoration, painting, book illumination, embroidery and jewellery. Her work is characterised by its romantic imagery. Her colours are vibrant, in contrast to the pale tones usually associated with the Scottish School. She drew her inspiration from Medieval and Renaissance art, Pre-Raphaelite painting and Celtic myths and legends.

Buildings and Interiors

Glasgow School of Art
The Glasgow School of Art is Charles Rennie Mackintosh's most famous work. It was built in two phases, from 1897 to 1899 and from 1907 to 1909. Mackintosh designed every aspect of the building with meticulous detail. The austere façade recalls Scottish baronial architecture, while the strong geometric structure of the interior design echoes Japan. The overall effect, however, reveals Mackintosh's own unique artistic style.

The Willow Tea Rooms

The Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow, were designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and opened in 1903. They were one of a series of commissions received from the renowned tea room proprietor, Kate Cranston. The decoration and furnishings of the Salon de Luxe, with its limited colour range, geometric and stylised flower motifs and elongated chair-backs, typifies the designer's work. Even the waitresses wore dresses and jewellery designed by Mackintosh.

The Catholic Apostolic Church, Edinburgh

In 1892 Phoebe Anna Traquair was commissioned to decorate the interior of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Edinburgh. The murals Traquair created were the most important of her career and reflect her interest in symbolism. The walls and ceiling of the chancel aisles show the parable of the Ten Virgins as a symbol of the spiritual journey through life. The work was praised as an outstanding example of modern decorative design.

Related Style

Influence of Japan 1850 - 1900

Designers of the Scottish School tried to create unified decorative interiors. They found much inspiration in the interiors shown in Japanese prints. These images suggested that the Japanese lived in an artistic environment where each element of architecture and design harmonised. This kind of 'total work of art' was the aim of designers such as Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Read more about the Influence of Japan

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