Mackintosh's icons of design sold for 2.2m pounds: Prophet of postmodernism has status further enhanced by record-breaking sale of elegant masterpieces collected by his 'rediscoverer'

AN ARTIST who suffered depression over his failed career in 1915 and whose home and studio contents were valued at his death 13 years later at pounds 88, reached star status at Christie's yesterday.

A 1904 ebonised writing- cabinet inlaid with mother-of- pearl by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Glasgow architect and designer, sold for pounds 793,500 - breaking records for any 20th-century furniture and any 20th-century decorative arts. It was bought by the Fine Art Society on behalf of an anonymous collector living in Britain.

It was one of 143 items of rare furniture, designs and drawings sold by Thomas Howarth, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at Toronto University in Canada.

In the Forties, when few people were interested in the artist, Dr Howarth bought his designs very cheaply. Mackintosh is now revered as a design genius and prophet of postmodernism and Dr Howarth yesterday saw his collection sell for more than pounds 2.27m - double Christie's estimate.

He said after the pounds 309,500 sale of a high oval-backed oak chair: 'I'm smiling . . . I've another one at home just like it.' The price was the highest ever paid for a 20th-century chair. Its estimate was pounds 30,000 to pounds 40,000.

Dr Howarth came to Glasgow in 1939 as a teacher. He used to scour local salerooms, picking up pieces of Mackintosh's furniture, drawings and sketchbooks.

He was instrumental in convincing the Glasgow School of Art to acquire Mackintosh's house and to set up a Mackintosh Room. He further championed Mackintosh as a crucial figure in the history of art and architecture when he wrote the definitive book on the artist, published in 1952.

In 1996, Mackintosh's standing as a major influence on European design will be enhanced by a major exhibition at the Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow and the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

Dr Howarth said that he had decided to sell most of his collection after a flood in his apartment five years ago made him realise the risk of keeping such vulnerable and important pieces. Modest to the end, he countered after- sale congratulations, saying: 'I'm not creating records. It's Mackintosh. I'm a mere agent for Mackintosh.'

A saucy picture of an ice skater broke the record price for any postcard artwork. The card, which shows a skater realising that she is revealing too much when a woman in the audience alerts her that she has forgotten her underwear, was sold with the original artwork for 10 other cards for pounds 3,850 at Christie's in London to a private British buyer living in New York. The estimate was pounds 150- pounds 250.

Known as ''Hey Sonia]', it was the most successful postcard produced by James Bamforth, a company established in Yorkshire in 1870 which became the world's largest publisher of comic postcards.

The cards were from the archives of E T W Dennis of Scarborough, which bought up Bamforth in the Eighties and produces 25 million postcards a year. The sale totalled pounds 88,033 (estimate, pounds 20,000 to pounds 30,000) All 3,200 cards found buyers.

(Photograph omitted)