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Barcelona Art Nouveau: A Unique Expression of Nationalism in Architecture
Sta. Creu Hospital de Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site
The Search for a Catalan National Architecture
The turn of 19th century saw architects and artists in Barcelona caught up at the beginning of a movement towards reviving Catalan national culture and tradition, the Renaixança. This became the rallying theme that brought together the elements that spurred on the rise of Art Nouveau, the new modernist architecture in Barcelona. Catalan culture is different from the rest of Spain. Art nouveau buildings would underline that distinctness.
It was not just the artistic community but also the new class of wealthy industrialists enriched by the explosion of trade, who was inspired by this movement and targeted their patronage to the rising form of architecture as their expression of their own nationalistic commitment.
Great names and architectural masterpieces that today are UNESCO World Heritage sites started with the modernist nationalist ideas of Antonio Gaudi, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadalfach.
Artistic Features of the Interior of Palau de la Musica
The Architects of Art Nouveau in Barcelona
When other parts of Spain were suffering because of the loss of colonies, Barcelona's growing wealthy class wanted to leave a legacy and they saw in the talented architects their chance to leave a mark and also promote the growing uniqueness and separateness in the city. An example of this was Eusebi Güell who was inspired by the works of Gaudi and supported most of his work.
Aside from Gaudi, the very first one to promote the search for a national architecture was Lluis Domenech i Montaner and as such was recognized as the founder of the Catalan Art Nouveau.
Not only the architects but many other artists of that time in Barcelona were gripped by the same movement towards nationalism and their new Modernist Art took on this theme.
To share their views and provide a venue where they could have a discussion about their cause, they established a cafe, El Quatre Gats. In Catalan, these words, Four Cats, usually refer to people who are weird, the outsiders. The four artists Miguel Utrillo, Pere Romeu, Ramón Casas and Santiago Rusiñol who started this cafe in 1897 wanted this to be a place for these so-called outsiders. Not long after its opening, the Cafe became immediately a meeting place for the Who's Who of Modernist Art Nouveau in Barcelona. The building itself was an original work of Josep Puig i Cadafalch, one of the 3 top proponents of Modernism in Barcelona.
1. Lluis Domenech i Montaner
If there is one architect who deserved the title of the Founder of this new art form, it was Lluis Domenech i Montaner.
Montaner first expressed his strong commitment to Catalan nationalist views in an article in the magazine, La Renaixança, entitled "En Busca de Arquitectura Nacional (In Search of a National Architecture).
This founder of Catalan Art Noveau was not only an architect but he was also a politician, physician, writer, and artist. He exerted a powerful force on the minds of that time and convinced architects, artists, industrialist and the majority of the common people to support this expression of Catalan nationalism.
In 1888, his first Catalan modernist building was inaugurated in Barcelona, the Cafe in the World Exhibition, El Castell dels 3 Dragons. This was a major breakthrough as the patrons of the arts saw that support for modernism was also seen as a strong commitment to nationalism. They also so that this style of architecture was not just about being different, but of responding to human needs.
With the success of the 1888 World Exhibition, there was tremendous support for modernism in the years that followed and the architects had a field day, such that today, over 2,000 buildings in Barcelona still display modernist architecture or contain modernist elements. Nine of these architectural masterpieces had been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, two of which were the works of Montaner.
He was registered as an architect in Barcelona in 1873 but he also wrote essays on architecture, technical books, and articles in newspapers and journals further promoting the ideas of the Renaixança specifically on how architects sought to feature the Catalan heritage and culture in their works and to celebrate the human impact on architecture rather than the strict formalism and Empire architecture from the rest of Europe.
Montaner also held a 45-year tenure as a professor and director at the Escola d'Arquitectura, Barcelona's school of architecture.
His energy, however, was fully given to the autonomist movement of Catalonia. He was an active member in La Jove Catalunya and El Centre Catala. He even chaired in 1888, the Lliga de Catalunya and in 1892, the Unio Catalanista. He was one of the organisers of the commission that approved the list of demands for Catalan autonomy. In 1889, he became a member of the Centre Nacional Catala and in 1901, the Liga Regionalista. In the same year, he was one of the four parliamentarians who won the "candidature of the four presidents" and re-elected in 1903 but in 1904, he totally abandoned politics to devote himself to architectural research.
Palau de la Musica
Works of Lluis Domenech i Montaner
Two of Montaner's works listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the Palau de la Musica and the Santa Creu Hospital de Sant Pau.
The top picture is the Palau de la Musica building, an impressive and beautifully decorated creation. To appreciate the acoustics, try to attend a concert there and you will have a sense of the greatness of Montaner in integrating science, art and humanism into one human scale structure.
If you happen to shop at Placa de Gracia in Barcelona and see a beautiful building housing the store Loewe, look up and you will immediately recognize the marks of Montaner. You cannot help but smile.
The picture below is of the ceiling of the hospital constructed to give Catalans a place to recover from sickness. This is just the ceiling but the video following this picture is that of the whole hospital which today is called the Sta Creu Hospital de San Pau Art Nouveau Site. The initial design called for 49 buildings but only 27 were finished because of the budget. Still, watch the video and see how impressive these buildings are still today. The concept is amazing and after looking at cathedrals and traditional monuments to Government, it really has an impact on your assumptions of architecture.
Ceiling of Sant Pau
Video of the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site
2. The Great Antoni Gaudi i Cornet
Gaudi became one of the most prodigious and popular of the architects of Modernism in Barcelona. His works expressed his creative genius and his love for nature. His buildings have put their stamp on the whole of the city as a monument to the imagination and breaking with traditions. His own words expressed this so well,
"Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator."
Often, he did not really draw his designs but created models in three dimensions changing them as he went along giving his works a highly individual style. It is not surprising that 7 of his works were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is not just the traditional shapes of architecture, but the integration of all forms of art into the buildings.
When visiting the great church, the Sagrada Familia, you can see his genius as you are enveloped in the natural light enhanced by the colours of the stained glass. The effects of shifting sunlight will take your breath away. Outside, the details built into the walls depicted day to day events and things in nature, all intricately woven into the design. Inside the huge columns that feel like trees and the integration of nature into all the decoration is almost magical.
Gaudi credited much of his creativity and art to his Mediterranean heritage as he wrote, "We own the image. Fantasy comes from the ghosts. Fantasy is what people in the North own. We are concrete. The image comes from the Mediterranean. Orestes knows his way, where Hamlet is torn apart by his doubts."
Gaudi's first humble design work was on the lampposts for the Plaza Real in Barcelona, the Girossi newsstands, and the Cooperativa Obrera Mataronense (Workers' Cooperative of Mataro) building. He gained wider recognition for his first important commission, the Casa Vicens which you can still visit when you are in Barcelona.
It was, however, at the Paris World's Fair of 1878 where Gaudi's display for the globe manufacturer Cornella impressed the Catalan industrialist Eusebi Guell who gave him his most important commissions: the Guell wine cellars, the Guell Pavillions, the Palau Guell, the Park Guell and the crypt in Colonia Guell. Brilliance combined with enthusiastic wealth had the inevitable outcomes!
In 1883, he was assigned the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia where he completely changed the design and moved it from staid to one of the greatest examples of art, architecture and imagination in the world. He has other commissions since then such as Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and others across Spain.
He remained single all his life and dedicated himself to his religion and his work, a bit of a solitary figure. It was during his walk to the church, Sant Felip Neri, for his prayer and confession that a tram hit him. Not much immediate help was given as people thought he was just a beggar until some passers-by placed him in a taxi and brought him to the Sta. Creu Hospital. But by the time the Chaplain of Sagrada Familia recognized him, it was already too late. On the 10th of June 1926, Gaudi died.
After his death, a new movement, the Noucentisme ruled the era and had no use for the Art Nouveau style so most of his works were left to deteriorate. It was only in the 1950s that Gaudi's legacy started to be recognized with the support of the Friends of Gaudi Association. In 1984, his works, the Park Güell, the Palau Güell and the Casa Mila, were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This was further enhanced in 1998 when the Archbishop of Barcelona recommended the beatification of Gaudi that people again paid attention. In 2005, more of his works were declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Nativity facade, the crypt and the apse of the Sagrada Família, the Casa Vicens and the Casa Batllo in Barcelona, together with the crypt of the Colonia Guell in Santa Coloma de Cervello.
More recognition followed and, today, no visitor in Barcelona could miss the tremendous genius of Antoni Gaudi.
Works of Antoni Gaudi
Works of Antoni Gaudi
No other work of Gaudi could surpass what he did in the Sagrada Familia to which he dedicated most of his ageing years. The picture above shows the natural lighting in this Church and the play of colours from the stained glass windows.
The picture below of the church door shows how Gaudi incorporated nature into his art, an unusual imaginative feature in this work.
There are more distinctive features in the Sagrada Familia that you will appreciate as soon as you have a chance to visit. The sculptures all done by Gaudi are a body of art all by themselves.
The third picture of Gaudi's works is that of Casa Batllo. This house displays modern architectural elements that you just have to see.
Gaudi has many other works and 7 of them are accorded UNESCO World Heritage Site distinction.
Door at Sagrada Familia
Casa Batllo of Gaudi
3. Josep Puig i Cadafalch
Josep Puig i Cadafalch was born in 1867 and by the time of his death in 1956, he had created quite a scattering of his works in the city. His first mark in the Art Nouveau Modernist Barcelona was the building of the Casa Marti in 1896 where the cafe El Quatre Gats, the first gathering place of the Modernists in Barcelona, has resided on its Ground Floor.
The link to the listing in Wikipedia below this article shows the works of Josep Puig i Cadafalch all over the city. Most familiar to visitors are the Casa Amatller (Passeig de Gracia, 41) just beside Gaudi's Casa Batllo and the Modernist factory of Cassaramona which is today home to the Caixa Forum. You can see the pictures below of these two.
Puig tended to favour cleaner lines as seen in his works and this accounted for his survival as an architect even beyond the Modernist period.
He was President of the academic institution, Institut d'Estudis Catalans, from 1942 to his death in 1956.
Works of Josep Puig i Cadafalch
You can see the picture above of the Casa Amatller which is often the most visited or seen of Puig's works because it is right beside the Casa Batllo of Gaudi. Today, you can visit the house and enjoy its ground floor chocolate store and restaurant.
The picture below is of Casaramona (Av. Marquès de Comillas,6-8), an old textile factory which Josep Puig i Cadafalch did for the industrialist, Casimir Casaramona i Puigcercos. Today, it is used by the CaixaForum which have regular art displays and exhibitions.
The Wikipedia listing of his works all over Spain reached 71, quite an achievement.
Casaramona - CaixaForum
The Top 3 Works of the Most Popular of the Barcelona Architects of Art Nouveau
Lluis Domenech i Montaner
Josep Puig i Cadafalch
La Sagrada Familia
Hospital de Sta. Creu i de Sant Pau
Palau Guell and Park Guell
Castle of the 3 Dragons
Palau de la Musica
Els Quatre Gats
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Barcelona with Art Noveau Architecture
Sta. Creu i Sant Pau Hospital
Palau de la Musica
Crypt in Colonia Guell
Unique Features of the Barcelona Art Nouveau
The unique modernistic elements present in Barcelona Art Nouveau reflect the nationalist movement of the time. Symbols highly significant to the Catalans can be seen such as the Catalan patron saint, St. George, the rose which is important in Catalan folk art and the Catalan coat of arms. You can see Montaner's beautiful depiction of these in the Palau de la Musica as he knows these symbols are important to the Catalan people who supported the completion of this building.
The Modernist architects supported by the wealth of the industrialists were able to give way to their imagination and use their money to advance new building innovations and design. Support as well from the Catalan artisans who were inspired to do the best for their nation produced some of the most beautiful pillars, tiles, glass and ironwork and this also revived most of Catalan's old artisan crafts. So, all these movement towards the modern incorporating the nation's heritage all helped to make of these masterpieces symbols of Catalan political identity.
Associated industries also rose around construction and the new techniques required, and the needs of outfitting these new homes. You can see Gaudi's designs of chairs, doors of houses and even air conditioning as in the case of Casa Batllo.
In 1871, to support the demands for skills by these new constructions, the Barcelona Architecture School was founded.
In 1891, changes in municipal bylaws further gave freedom to the imagination of many Modernist architects as they tried out covering balconies, changing cornice lines or placing domes and rotundas on the corners of buildings. A sense of humour was introduced to architecture.
Of course, there were elements unique to each of these architects representing this era. Montaner often incorporated Moorish features in his work, Gaudi allowed his imagination and love for nature to incorporate organic forms in his design and Cadafalch preferred simpler lines bringing him closer to Noucentisme.
Pillars of the Palau de la Musica
The Decline of Modernism
It was not later than 1906 when resistance to Modernism gained a following among the design community led by the art critic, Eugeni d'Ors, who pushed for a movement towards the new century, Noucentisme.
By 1910, Art Nouveau Modernism disgusted many people for its garish, lavish and decadent features which were then considered bad taste. So, new clean lines and more functional features of Noucentisme became more favoured. As a result, many of the works of the Art Nouveau architects were just left to decay until appreciation and support once again gained proponents.
Today, these sites draw so many visitors and leave people with awe at how much creativity and innovation had been done by these architectural geniuses. They have become the central pillar of the billion euro Barcelona tourist industry. But if you can take a bit of time and just gaze at the structures, they may change your mind on the importance of art and architecture to a nations feeling of uniqueness.
Your Thoughts on Architecture
Should architecture express national identity?
- Josep Puig i Cadafalch
A very good description of Cadafalch life and works.
- Antoni Gaudí - Wikipedia
The life and works of the creative genius of the Art Nouveau movement in Barcelona
- Barcelona.de - Catalan art nouveau from 1878 to around 1910
The history of Modernism, the Catalan Art Nouveu in Barcelona
© 2018 Mary Norton