A three-month investigation by a team of forensic archaeologists has revealed what items survived last year’s devastating fire at Glasgow School of Art (GSA).

The Grade A-listed art nouveau Mackintosh building was badly damaged in the blaze on 23 May 2014, which was caused by flammable gases from a canister of expanding foam which ignited as they came into contact with the hot surface of a projector.

Around 90 of the oil paintings on canvas in the School’s collections were destroyed, including two by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a number by Newbery and one by Joan Eardley. 

Around 8000 books and journals in the Mackintosh Library were also lost, although almost 80% of the rare book collection, housed in another building, was undamaged.

The majority of the contents of the library were destroyed, but forensic archaeology has retrieved a number of artefacts, including parts of the studio clock and all its mechanism, most of the metal from the lamps in the iconic central light fitting, some of the rare book collection, and parts of some of the library chairs. All of these items have been documented and put into specialist storage as the GSA looks into what conservation work can or should be done.

Virtually all the items that were in the studio above the Mackintosh Library were also lost in the fire, including some 97 items of furniture which were part of the GSA’s Recognised Collection. 

A statement from the GSA says: “We are obviously devastated to have lost anything from our Archives and Collections in the fire. As part of the GSA’s commitment to greater access through digitisation, virtually all of the lost artefacts had already been documented and images of them will continue to be accessible through the GSA’s online archive.”

However, the majority of the paper archives and artworks on paper, including more than 100 works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh were unharmed by the fire, as was the large plaster cast collection, although many pieces suffered some smoke and water damage. 

The object collections, which include ceramics, small sculptures, examples of silversmithing and jewellery, all survived The textile collections, however, suffered some water damage. 

Professor Tom Inns, GSA Director, said: “The GSA Archives and Collections comprises thousands of items, including artworks and architectural drawings, correspondence and documentation relating to the historical development of the estate and the running of the school, textiles, plaster casts, photographs and furniture, and the vast majority survived the fire intact although there have inevitably been losses.”

He added: “All of the surviving material is now stable and secure. It will be reviewed by expert conservators as part of a recovery programme which will take place over the next three years.”

Original sources

Glasgow School of Art 

BBC News 

In a bid to remove potential fire hazards, commercial buildings and non-domestic premises in Scotland are already forced to carry out a fire safety risk assessment under the Fire (Scotland) Act 2005, in conjunction with the Fire Safety (Scotland) Regulations 2006, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the enforcing authority has the power to prosecute the Dutyholder.