Catalan modernism (Modernisme català), is the historiographic denomination given to an art and literature movement associated with the search of a new entitlement of Catalan culture, one of the most predominant cultures within Spain. Nowadays is consider a movement based on the cultural reivindication of a catalan identity. Its main form of expression was in architecture, but many other arts were involved (painting, sculpture, etc.), and especially the design and the decorative arts (cabinetmaking, carpentry, forged iron, ceramic tiles, ceramics, glass-making, silver and goldsmith work, etc.), which were particularly important, especially in their role as support to architecture. Modernisme was also a literary movement (poetry, fiction, drama).
Catalan Modernism was a political-cultural movement that longed for transforming Catalan society. The Modernists, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, struggled to achieve a modern and national culture. It was developed in Catalonia, and especially in Barcelona, over three decades, between about 1885 and 1920.
It was a very eclectic movement that stood out mainly for its architecture, which was characterized by a formal renewal, a national sense and the use of innovative materials. The modernist architects will build, with a great creativity and profusion of details, the buildings of a modern Catalonia.
However, Catalan modernism was not just an architectural and decorative style characterized by curvilinear forms, extracted from the flora and, in general, from nature. In fact, modernism is only part of the meaning of the name, known outside of Catalonia as Art Nouveau, Modern Style or Glasgow Style, Jugendstil, Sezession, Liberty, etc. What began to be called modernism in Catalonia was the newest and most modern arts-including literature and music-that appeared at the end of the 19th century and continued in the first years of the twentieth century. It was the art more similar to the most modern trends that appeared in Europe. Thus, so modernist was a painter who approached symbolism as another who followed Impressionism or a writer seduced by naturalism. If they sounded modern they were, accordingly, modernist.
Although it is part of a general current that emerges throughout Europe (Modernism), in Catalonia it acquires its own personality and differentiated, and it becomes probably the most developed modernism. He tried to recover Catalan culture together with a firm desire to modernize the country. Catalan architecture, sculpture, painting and decorative arts found their compatibility with Art Nouveau, and the concordance with what Catalan culture and art needed (completing the creativity initiated in the Renaixença), and the Catalan society (reaffirming its modernity by transforming itself). In the hands of Catalan architects, this style has, in addition, remarkable examples in cities such as Comillas, Novelda, Astorga, Melilla or León, with significant milestones being the Universal Exposition of Barcelona (1888) and the Exposition International of Barcelona (1929).
Catalan nationalism was an important influence upon Modernista artists, modernistes largely rejected bourgeois values, which they thought to be the opposite of art. Consequently, they adopted two stances: they either set themselves apart from society in a bohemian or culturalist attitude, or they attempted to use art to change society .
Some works of Catalan Modernism have been cataloged by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site: De Gaudí, Parc Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Milà, the facade of the Birth and the crypt of the Sagrada Família, Casa Vicens and the Casa Batlló in Barcelona, together with the crypt of Colonia Güell in Sta. Coloma de Cervelló; and the Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, by Domènech i Montaner. Regarding modernist painting, we can find many of these works exhibited in different Catalan museums such as the National Art Museum of Catalonia or the Catalan Modernism Museum.
Modernisme Architecture link to the eclecticist current, but also emphasizes two aspects: a desire to inspire national historical styles, such as medieval architecture, and trust in creativity and know-how of the architect to serve.
Modernisme buildings contain the main features of the first Modernisme: references spread to Catalan Gothic architecture, the use of powerful ornamental and decorative elements, and the use of traditional Catalan constructive elements (enameled tile, plaque brick vault or Catalan vault, wrought iron) and other industrial ones (metallic structures, cast iron, ceramic brick seen).
At the end of the 19th century, the product of industrialization, throughout Europe, there was an intellectual debate in keeping with the classic academicist ideas (which had had the latest exponent in Neoclassicism), and those that influenced an innovative, experimental modernity bold parallel to the industrial economy and the use of new materials.
The Catalan industrial and rural bourgeoisie, in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the century. XX, found a route of representation with modernist architecture. This movement was meant by an artistic renovation parallel to other contemporary arts, the search for new formal expressions and the desire to position themselves in modernity at European level. He had conceptual and stylistic similarities with the various variants of the so-called Art Nouveau (art nouveau) that is developed in Europe during the same period. The art centers were cities that traditionally were on the periphery of the great cultural movements (Glasgow, Brussels, Nancy, Vienna and to a lesser extent Paris).
There were more than 100 architects who made buildings of the Modernista style, three of whom are particularly well known for their outstanding buildings: Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
Antoni Gaudí, who went beyond mainstream Modernisme, creating a personal style based on observation of the nature and exploitation of traditional Catalan construction traditions. He was using regulated geometric shapes as the hyperbolic paraboloid, the hyperboloid, the helicoid and the conoide.
Lluís Domènech i Montaner created a genuine alternative architecture. Along with Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas he worked towards a modern and international style. Domènech continued on from Viollet-le-Duc, his work characterized by a mix of constructive rationalism and ornaments inspired in the Hispano-Arab architecture as seen in the Palau de la Música Catalana, in the Hospital de Sant Pau or in the Institut Pere Mata of Reus. His Hotel Internacional at Passeig de Colom in Barcelona (demolished after the 1888 World Fair) was an early example of industrial building techniques.
Josep Puig i Cadafalch was a Catalan architect, politician and historian who was involved in many projects to restore older buildings. One of his most well-known buildings is his rebuilding of the Casa Amatller in Passeig de Gràcia. It has elements in both the Catalan tradition and others originating in the Netherlands or the German Gothic. Neo-Gothic is also apparent in his Codorniu Winery (Caves Codorniu, 1904). He built Casa Amatller and Casa Trinxet.
Modernisme arts is a particular style for Catalonia drawing on Medieval and Arab styles. Like the currents known in other countries as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Stile Liberty, Modern Style or Sezessionstil, Modernisme was closely related to the English Arts and Crafts movement and the Gothic revival. As well as combining a rich variety of historically-derived elements, it is characterized by the predominance of the curve over the straight line, by rich decoration and detail, by the frequent use of vegetal and other organic motifs, the taste for asymmetry, a refined aestheticism and dynamic shapes.
Modernisme painting influenced and shuts off the anecdote and the brilliant frame to give importance to pure painting, sounded so new that he disconcerted many fans and disliked many others, the pictorial modernism was opened.
Modernisme symbolism of Riquer, greatly influenced by English pre-Raphaeliteism, was expressed through scenes of scare, with fairies, nymphs or angels that used to move in a vegetal context, forests or gardens, stylized and purified.
The two tendencies coexisted modernisme to symbolism, remained true to modernist realism and, increasingly, was even more truthful.
A crude realist of loose and vigorous brushstroke and prosaic themes emerged, which should be considered as modernist as the others, but that lived apart from the consecrated groups and took years to be valued.
Modernisme promote modernist spectacles where text, music, stage design and often cinema were integrated, in another sample of total art attempt. Modernisme gave birth to a platform, solvent and brilliantly presented, to support and disseminate Catalan and international cultural events of the moment.
Catalan modernist sculpture took longer to break out. It is largely linked to architecture, as there are many emblematic buildings that are essentially covered with modernist sculpture by Eusebi Arnau, Miquel Blay or others. However, sculpture as an independent new art was not really felt until the appearance, as well as public works, also made magnificent marble figures, especially women, in which, with a lot of personality, there are resonances of the delusions workers’ subjects Constantin Meunier. In other words, in the modernist sculpture of Catalonia, two very different styles coexisted: one similar to symbolism and the other to naturalism. Modernisme despite being more inclined to make public statues or groups applied to architecture, also produced quite significant modernist collecting pieces.
Catalan modernism meant the transformation, in the words of the writer Joan Fuster, of a regional and traditional culture in national and modern culture. It was much more, then, that an aesthetic option. It was an ideological background option in the widest sense of the word. Modernists wanted to break with the old notions that had rooted in the previous generation. The goal was to achieve a modern culture with new forms and ideas, overcome the naturalistic positivism and, at the same time, the Renaissance and invalidate established social and artistic values. To do this, we had to look in the most advanced cultures of Europe, especially the French, and create again an art, literature and currents of thought that, approved according to the criteria of modernity, would allow a global change of model of society.
In literature, Modernisme stood out the most in narrative. The nouvelles and novels of decadent writers such as Prudenci Bertrana (whose highly controversial Josafat involved a demented priest who ends up killing a prostitute), Caterina Albert (also known as Víctor Catala), author of bloody, expressionistic tales of rural violence, opposed to the idealisation of nature propugned by Catalan Romantics, or Raimon Casellas have been highly influential upon later Catalan narrative, essentially recovering a genre that had been lost due to political causes since the end of the Middle Ages.
In poetry, Modernisme closely follows Symbolist and Parnassian poetry, with poets frequently crossing the line between both tendencies or alternating between them. Another important strain of Modernista poetry is Joan Maragall’s “Paraula viva” (Living word) school, which advocated Nietzschean vitalism and spontaneous and imperfect writing over cold and thought-over poetry. Although poetry was very popular with the Modernistes and there were lots of poets involved in the movement, Maragall is the only Modernista poet who is still widely read today.
Modernista theatre was also important, as it smashed the insubstantial regional plays that were popular in 19th century Catalonia. There were two main schools of Modernista theatre: social theatre, which intended to change society and denounce injustice—the worker stories of Ignasi Iglésias, for example Els Vells (“The old ones”); the Ibsen-inspired works of Joan Puig i Ferreter, most notably Aigües Encantades (“Enchanted Waters”); Rusiñol’s antimilitaristic play L’Hèroe—and symbolist theatre, which emphasised the distance between artists and the bourgeoisie—for example, Rusiñol’s Cigales i Formigues (“Cicadas and Ants”) or El Jardí Abandonat (“The Abandoned Garden”).
The decorative arts and the design in Catalonia underwent a profound transformation and revived as a result of the industrialization process of the nineteenth century. During this century, artisan objects were progressively replaced by objects produced in factories in greater numbers, more quickly and at a lower cost. The new productive force requires a new way of conceiving the object, since the production in series imposes a perfect synchronization of the different phases of a much more complex process than the craft production.
In this primitive stage of industrial design, there is a need to imitate the aesthetics of the artisan world. The divergence between the pure functionality of the object and its value as a beautiful way was the core of an intense European debate during the nineteenth century. To society it was hard for him to accept objects that are far from the traditional aspect of craftsmanship and the industry chose to satisfy this taste through decorativism in many cases empty content. Encyclopedic-picturesque album of Artes Industriales’ (1857-1859) by Lluís Rigalt exemplifies the difficult primitive stage in the relationship between art and industry.
European theorists such as John Ruskin and William Morris fiercely criticized the industrial object based on indiscriminate copying and eclecticism. The triumph of the new model implied, according to them, a social imbalance (the factory ends with artisans) and a material and spiritual impoverishment (the factory only provides devalued replicas). For Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, the alternative was the return to the artisan model that dignified both the artisan and the object. Although not sharing the position defended by Morris, the industry understood that objects could not imitate the past, but had to harmonize materials, form and use from the conception of a new social and cultural reality . The defense that Morris made of crafts also dissolved the traditional discrimination of the decorative arts with respect to the traditional Fine Arts.
Catalonia is a paradigmatic example in the construction of the new cultural and artistic reality. Catalan textile products were the best example of a manufacturing capacity based on the desire for constant improvement and entrepreneurial projects. Reflecting on this dynamic are the different exhibitions that take place in Barcelona during the 19th century, such as the Products Exhibition of the Principality (1844) or the Industrial and Artistic Exhibition (1860). The culmination of public samples comes with the Universal Exposition of Barcelona (1888), understood as a great effort to integrate Catalonia within the framework of international modernity through industry and local design.
At the same time, figures such as Francesc Vidal i Jevellí or Alexandre de Riquer adapted the Arts and Crafts discourse in Catalonia and laid the foundations for the decorative arts to play during the Modernist stage. Architecture and applied arts are understood as a whole that defines the aesthetics and the identity of the building, erased the hierarchy between architect and craftsman through a close collaboration. The symbiosis reveals the tune between modernism and similar renovation currents at European level. All share the concept of work of “total art”, the integration of all the arts in the global framework of the project.
Modernisme Graphic arts influenced by the French art of the moment: art nouveau, symbolism and Impressionism.
Catalan posters in the nineteenth century can be separated into two categories. Some, in small dimensions, with costume dances organized by different societies during carnival; The others, officers, are destined to announce fairs and performances. The first, happy and carefree, they sing, women tend to be the center of composition. The text is secondary, it is limited to indicate the place and date the dance. Remember the famous Chéret posters about nightlife shows in Montmartre. The officers, on the other hand, are more austere, they give prominence to the always long and detailed text that occupies the great part of the composition, the illustrations are not is that a companion of the text, and often they are limited to the drawing of the ” shield of the city to an allegory of art, virtue, etc.
Modernisme posters were intended to announce, with rare exceptions, the official exhibitions of literary shows and publications, and they were only performed by commission. Thus the poster finds its modern function, an auxiliary means for industry and commerce, thus entering the era of advertising.
Modernista ideas impelled L’Avenç collaborator Pompeu Fabra to devise a new orthography for Catalan. However, only with the later rise of Noucentisme did his projects come to fruition and end the orthographic chaos which reigned at the time.
By 1910, Modernisme had been accepted by the bourgeoisie and had pretty much turned into a fad. It was around this time that Noucentista artists started to ridicule the rebel ideas of Modernisme and propelled a more bourgeois art and a more right-of-center version of Catalan Nationalism, which eventually rose to power with the victory of the Lliga Regionalista in 1912. Until Miguel Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship suppressed all substantial public use of Catalan, Noucentisme was immensely popular in Catalonia. However, Modernisme did have a revival of sorts during the Second Spanish Republic, with avant-garde writers such as Futurist Joan-Salvat Papasseit earning comparisons to Joan Maragall, and the spirit of Surrealists such as Josep Vicent Foix or Salvador Dalí being clearly similar to the rebellion of the Modernistes, what with Dalí proclaiming that Catalan Romanticist Àngel Guimerà was a putrefact pervert. However, the ties between Catalan art from the 1930s and Modernisme are not that clear, as said artists were not consciously attempting to continue any tradition.
Modernista architecture survived longer. The Spanish city of Melilla in Northern Africa experienced an economic boom at the turn of the 20th century, and its new bourgeoisie showed its riches by massively ordering Modernista buildings. The workshops established there by Catalan architect Enrique Nieto continued producing decorations in this style even when it was out of fashion in Barcelona, which results in Melilla having, oddly enough, the second largest concentration of Modernista works after Barcelona.