Exposition au musée

Gaudí

Del 12 Aprile al 17 Julio 2022
Antoni Gaudí
Projet pour l’église de la Colònia Güell, vers 1908 -1910
© Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona / Marc Vidal i Aparicio
Gaudí : entrée de l'exposition
Gaudí : entrée de l'exposition
© Sophie Crépy

The iconic Barcelona artist Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) is still one of the most famous architects in the world. Despite his popularity, he nevertheless remains a disconcerting artist who defies the conventional classifications of the history of architecture and the decorative arts. Although historically associated with the Catalan modernism movement and the huge amorphous European Art Nouveau, he sets himself apart with work which is both truly original and personal. There has not been a monographic exhibition of his work in France since the small exhibit at the Salon national des Beaux-Arts in 1910. His work has been presented in photographs on several occasions in exhibitions devoted to the birth of modern art, notably at the “Twentieth Century Pioneers” exhibition organised in 1971 by the Musée des arts décoratifs, which presented Gaudí alongside Guimard, Horta, and Van de Velde.

The National Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona (MNAC) has made this immersion in Gaudí’s unique art possible. The richness of his world is gradually revealed, from the intimacy of his creative approach through to his most iconic creations.

On the treshold of Gaudí's work

This striking panelled vestibule has been reassembled here for the first time by way of an introduction to Gaudí’s world. Designed by Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol (1879-1949), one of his closest collaborators, this disconcerting space ushered visitors into one of the apartments of the Casa Milà (1905-1910). The impressive angled glazed door slid back to provide access to a private chapel with benches opposite.

Gaudí : au seuil de l’œuvre
Gaudí : au seuil de l’œuvre
© Sophie Crépy

Other more discreet doors led to reception or utility rooms. What is striking about this panelling is its systematic asymmetry and the way in which it is perfectly adapted to the shape of the room. The seemingly plain oak is carved with great virtuosity and almost seems to be “modelled”. Despite the eccentric shapes, rational elements can still be discerned: the wood clads the stone pillars supporting the building and the artist has carefully incorporated utilitarian elements such as benches, cupboards, and air vents. This unconventional aesthetic, build quality, and attention to materials are consistent features of Gaudí’s work.

Gaudí at work

The Studio
Gaudí occupied several studios in Barcelona, but eventually worked mostly at the studio at the Sagrada Familia, where he spent the last months of his life. This workspace for Gaudí and his co-workers was a microcosm of his world, and contained his work tools, references to other projects, and his main sources of inspiration.
It was a complex space which was destroyed by a fire in 1936, during the Spanish Civil War and what knowledge we have of it comes primarily from a series of photographs taken just after his death in 1926.

Gaudí : L'Atelier
Gaudí : L'Atelier
© Sophie Crépy

This little building erected next to the basilica contained three adjacent spaces: the studio, the cast store, and the photography studio. There was also a studio for casts and models in the crypt of the basilica which was under construction, and this additional workspace and area for experiments reveals the originality of the approach adopted by Gaudí, whose working methods were atypical. He favoured developing projects in three dimensions, using scale models to calculate the stability of his structures. Gaudí also employed photography to plan structure and decor. He would draw on photographic prints to bring his initial vision to life.

Gaudí's Library

The rich resources of the library of the Barcelona School of Architecture, where Gaudí was a student, hold the clues to his reading history. In addition to technical works such as L’art de bâtir by Rondelet (1802), we know that Gaudí studied the contemporary writings of the great architects who shaped rationalist thinking. Viollet-le-Duc was his primary reference point with his Dictionnaire raisonné de l’architecture française (1858) and Entretiens sur l’architecture (1863). These illustrated works were a resource shared by all architects in the second half of the 19th century with an interest in construction methods and ancient and medieval and references. Gaudí also consulted works by British artists such as John Ruskin’s The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849) and Owen Jones The Grammar of Ornament (1861). They are the main influence on his thinking about the relationship between craftsmanship and industry. Gaudí was also curious about anthologies of non-European art such as Arab Architecture and the Monuments of Cairo by Pascal Coste (1839) and the famous Description of Egypt (1809). Furthermore, he was very familiar with anthologies of Mudéjar and Mozarabic art, of which Spain offers many fine examples, such as the Alhambra in Grenada.

Gaudí : La bibliothèque de Gaudí / Formation et premiers projets
Gaudí : La bibliothèque de Gaudí / Formation et premiers projets
© Sophie Crépy

Training and early projects

After pursuing a traditional education in Reus (Tarragona), Gaudí enrolled at the Provincial School of Architecture in Barcelona founded by the architect Elies Regent in 1871. He produced a number of pieces of work there which revealed his mastery of drawing and his taste for colour. When he graduated in 1878, the Director allegedly declared on handing him his degree certificate: “He is either a genius or a madman!” After graduating, Gaudí severed all ties with the school and faculty and embarked on his career. He came from a modest background and had to find employment quickly in order to earn a living. He worked as an assistant to various architects such as Josep Fontserè i Mestre at Ciutadella Park, Paula i Villar at the monastery of Montserrat and Joan Martorell on the restoration of the façade of Barcelona cathedral. Martorell played a key role in raising his awareness of a novel architecture which respected the past, but introduced innovative forms, such as the parabolic arch, and a new vocabulary of ornament. A group of artists congregated around Martorell, who distanced himself from academic teaching on architecture and went on to establish the Catalan modernism movement with Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

Barcelona

In the space of less than forty years, Barcelona experienced extraordinary urban and architectural expansion. Faced with the need to accommodate booming industry, notably the textile sector, the city, which still retained its defensive wall and medieval districts, launched a competition in 1859 for plans to extend it. The engineer Ildefonse Cerdà was appointed to create the Esanche (extension). The “ Cerdà Plan” was a grid street plan involving the construction of numerous residential buildings on broad open avenues, the most famous of which is the Passeig de Gràcia. The bourgeois industrialists and aristocrats creating the new city came up against opposition from less wealthy, anarchist or anticlerical segments of the population, who were seeking an identity which the nation-state of Spain could not satisfy. La Renaixença, a political and cultural movement at the time, favoured the “renaissance” of the Catalan language and traditions. It supported the organisation of the Universal Exhibition of 1888 which showcased Barcelona as a modern city. However, the international political situation, and notably the loss of Spain’s colonies, hit Catalonia hard. Barcelona was the victim of bomb attacks and the Tragic Week riots in the summer of 1909 left Gaudí badly shaken. He abandoned all commissions and devoted himself to the Sagrada Familia project.

Gaudí et Güell: preludes

Gaudí : Gaudí et Güell, préludes
Gaudí : Gaudí et Güell, préludes
© Sophie Crépy

Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi (1846-1918), a bourgeois-aristocratic textile manufacturer and lover of literature and music was the sophisticated face of the Catalan cultural identity agenda. He had travelled in Europe and was therefore familiar not only with the art of Versailles, but also with the British Arts and Crafts movement. At the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1878, he noticed an ornamental display case designed by Gaudí for the glove manufacturer Esteban Comella. Güell was keen to meet the young architect and they remained firm friends. With their unusual personalities they formed a sort of patron and artist duo, sharing two fundamental passions: Catalonia as a Mediterranean homeland and their religious faith. In 1881, Güell entrusted Gaudí with developing the area around the farm properties he had inherited from his father in the vicinity of Barcelona. The Finca Güell with its dragon on the wrought iron entrance gate for visitors soon became famous. Concurrently, Gaudí began working on projects with his former teacher, the architect Martorell, for the family of the Marquis López de Comillas, in Santander (Cantabria), to whose daughter Eusebi Güell was married. This marked the start of a fruitful collaboration which began against the backdrop of symbolic poetry penned by the poet-priest Jacint Verdaguer.

Güell Palace 1885-1889

Gaudí : le palais Güell
Gaudí : le palais Güell
© Sophie Crépy

This was the first end-to-end project designed by the combined intellects of Güell and Gaudí. Built in the heart of the medieval quarter of Barcelona, the Palace looked like an Italian renaissance building, with a discreet, somewhat austere façade, and a huge richly decorated interior. A monumental staircase provided access to the piano nobile (principle floor) where reception rooms were organised around a central space over 15m high, with a pierced cupola resembling the starry skies. This area, equipped with an organ, featured a closet chapel behind double doors, which was richly decorated with gilded walls, and paintings. The cosmic symbolism is very clearly expressed here. In the staterooms and rooms arranged on different floors around the music room, Gaudí implemented what would become his rationalist hallmark: he divided up spaces with columns forming galeries in alignment to the windows, used artisan materials such as natural stone, wood, metal and glass, and created decor and furniture in the burgeoning Arts and Crafts style. However, his main influence here, as at the Casa Vicens, was still Gothic and Mudéjar art. The basement stables which horses accessed via a spiral ramp demonstrate a spectacular use of brick.

The Exhibition of 1910

Gaudí : l'exposition de 1910
Gaudí : l'exposition de 1910
© Sophie Crépy

The annual Salon of the Société nationale des Beaux-Arts took place at the Grand-Palais in Paris, in 1910. A whole room was devoted to Gaudí for the first time in Paris, organised by the architect Anatole de Baudot, who was in charge of the “Architecture” section. Eusebi Güell took the decision to exhibit Gaudí’s creations and projects abroad. The presentation consisted of a number of photographs, a few drawings, and scale models, including the monumental model of the Sagrada Familia with its polychrome façade, on which Gaudí’s, young assistant Josep Maria Jujol worked. Art critics expressed widespread puzzlement mingled with occasional admiration. According to Le Petit Parisien: “[…] nothing from the past, everything from the present: the occasionally unexpected result is always balanced, logical and artistic”, and the Gazette des Beaux-Arts claimed: “We are in the presence of the only creator of lines and forms of our times”. Large-format photographs were produced especially for the event, offering breathtaking views of Park Güell. Despite this, the exhibition was viewed as a failure by Gaudí, who came to the conclusion in the light of these criticisms that the French were philistines.

Park Güell, 1900- 1914

Gaudí : le Park Güell
Gaudí : le Park Güell
© Sophie Crépy

This iconic place reveals Güell’s social commitment to the city. As a city councillor then member of parliament, Güell was keen to create “collective” developments. He embarked on a project to transform an arid natural park (known as the “Peeled Mountain”) on the outskirts of the city into a garden town. It was intended for wealthy homeowners with aspirations to a life in a natural environment, in the English style, and was connected by leafy paths to communal areas for culture (theatre) and to beautiful sights (a viewpoint over the city). Only two of the sixty plots planned were bought. This commercial failure did not undermine an ambitious project with a symbolic aspect. For Güell, the mountain symbolised Catalonia and the rustic nature of the place inspired him to create a garden which was simultaneously romantic and sacred. This relationship with the landscape is expressed in the appearance of passages and arcades in which nature blends with architecture. The slanted pillars, parabolic arches and rough-hewn stone represent a synthesis of Gaudí’s thinking. The presence of a spring meant that he was able to let water, the original symbol of life, flow from the caves down to the salamander fountain at the entrance.

Les Hôtels Urbains

Casa Vicens

Several Barcelona families hired Gaudí to design their houses, and he created an environment for these wealthy bourgeois families in the new district of Esanche These houses still bear the names of the men who commissioned them. The Casa Vicens was the first house designed by Gaudí, for Manuel Vicens i Montaner who wanted him to create a country house for his family on the plot of land he had just inherited in the village of Gràcia. Gaudí designed the project between 1878 and 1880, and building work took place between 1883 and 1888. Stylistically, this construction was still heavily influenced by orientalism and the Mudjédar style characteristic of Arabic-speaking Iberian Christians. Interior and exterior spaces complement each other, making this house a pleasant summer residence. Gaudí paid particular attention to areas which allowed residents to enjoy the garden: a covered porch with slatted wooden shutters, the fountain at the entrance, and a monumental waterfall (demolished in 1925). He drew on an array of techniques for the interior design, notably in the reception rooms (dining room, drawing room and smoking room): cabinetwork, ceramics, carton-pierre, sgraffito, etc. The overall effect is an opulent decor teeming with allusions to fauna and flora. The Casa Vicens and its gardens have been extensively altered in the 20th century.

Casa Calvet

In 1898, Gaudí began building the Casa Calvet, a residential building on the Carrer de Casp in Barcelona, which also had a shop at street level and offices. Although the building was supposed to blend into an existing district, Gaudí delivered a highly personal work featuring  baroque architectural references, symbolic sculpture, and personal elements. The deceptively demure street façade is enlivened with sculpted decor punctuated by window openings and is topped by two Dutch-inspired gables. The floor plan and distribution of the apartments is traditional and designed around a main stairwell and light well. The decor for the building, for which Gaudí designed a significant amount of furniture, is highly original. The main entrance is theatrical. It showcases the stairwell and central lift using twisted and composite columns; a polychrome ceramic decor and murals bring the space to life. Gaudí designed the fittings right down to the smallest detail, inventing unusual shapes for door peepholes, knockers, and handles. In 1900, the Casa Calvet was awarded the Barcelona municipal prize for its originality and the quality of the build.

Casa Batlló

Gaudí : la Casa Batlló
Gaudí : la Casa Batlló
© Sophie Crépy

Josep Batlló approached Gaudí in 1904 to redevelop an 1877 block located on the Passeig de Gràcia. Gaudí decided not to demolish the old building, but to radically transform its aesthetic and functionality. The façade overlooking the street is striking for its polychromy and daring organic curves, notably the bone-shaped pillars which create a wide drawing room window looking onto the street. To the rear, the terrace echoes the colourful façade in the form of an urban garden. For the interior, Gaudí created a synthesis of his aesthetic and practical ideas by paying attention to the circulation of air and light. On the upper level, he used the catenary arch which he developed during his experiments with vaults. The doors and panelling create a dreamlike world inspired by the sea, which is accentuated by the used of coloured glass. The central courtyard, which accommodates the vertical circulation routes, is decorated with graduated colour ranging from iridescent white at the base to deep blue at the upper level in order to draw light down to the lower floors. The oak furniture echoes the curves of the building while remaining ergonomic for its users. The synthetic aspect of the Casa Batlló makes it one of the most representative examples of Gaudí’s work.

Casa Milà

Businessman Pere Milà i Camps and his wife Roser Segimon i Artells, who were friends of Josep Batlló, were doubtless captivated by the ongoing refurbishment of the Casa Batlló, when they commissioned Gaudí to design a major building a few hundred metres away on the Passeig de Gràcia. Between 1906 and 1910, Gaudí managed this project for a building housing shops on the ground floor, the owner’s apartment on the main floor, and rental apartments on the upper floors. The structure reflects the research carried out by Gaudí who used concrete for the foundations then stone and metal topped with bricks and traditional tiles. The vaulting in the roof space consists entirely of catenary arches which give it an unusual shape. The façade at the junction of two streets is surprisingly monochrome, enlivened by windows with undulating guard rails. It was dubbed “La Pedrera” (quarry). The roof is adorned with little edicules in unusual graphic shapes capping the stairwells and ventilation shafts. The scale of the building meant that Gaudí ran into issues not only with the city authorities, but also with the project owners, whose patience he taxed.

The Great Church

Early Religious Project

Gaudí : premiers projets religieux
Gaudí : premiers projets religieux
© Sophie Crépy

In 1878, after graduating from architecture school, Gaudí wrote an essay entitled “Ornamentation” in which he expressed a desire to build a religious edifice which would be his own work. A “Great Church” as a unifying place for Christian faith and architectural creation seemed entirely logical to him. His earliest experiences in the religious sphere were with his teacher Joan Martorell, who was in charge of the restoration of the façade of Barcelona cathedral. Previously, circa 1876-1877, Gaudí had developed restoration projects for the monastery of Montserrat (Catalonia) with Paula del Villar, then worked on the Comilla family’s funerary chapel furniture in Santander (Cantabria). He received a relatively large number of commissions for religious furniture. His interest in the reform of the liturgy took him to Majorca in the Balearics in 1903, where the bishop asked him to restore the choir of the cathedral. A multitude of natural and repurposed materials, work with light and an interest in acoustics were the hallmarks of his approach. Gaudí was also engaged by the Church for an end-to-end architectural projects such as the Episcopal Palace of Astorga in Léon in 1887, the Teresian College in Barcelona in 1889, and an unfinished project in Tangiers for Catholic missions in Africa, in 1892-1893.

The Church in the Colonia Güell

Gaudí : l’Église de la Colonia Güell
Gaudí : l’Église de la Colonia Güell
© Sophie Crépy

The workers’ settlement adjoining the Santa Coloma de Cervello velvet factory (Catalonia), designed by Güell in 1898, lacked a substantial place of worship. Gaudí devised a project located outside the development on a hill among the pines. The first stone was laid in 1908. The crypt was built, but the project was abandoned unfinished in 1914. For the architect, this church was a real laboratory for architectural statics (columns, vaulting and load management) which provided useful lessons for the Sagrada Familia. The crypt consists of a forest of pillars, both inside and out, in different shapes and made from different materials. The overall effect is simultaneously rustic and sophisticated, appearing to defy the laws of statics and gravity with its use of slanting columns. The interior and exterior blend into one and establish a relationship with the landscape due to large windows designed like wide-open eyes accentuated by coloured ceramics. The remains of the church are reminiscent of Mycenaean architecture (Greece, 1550-1050 BC) whose massive blocks were held in place by their own weight. The telluric power which emanates from the crypt and its surroundings radiates from the valuable drawings on photographs which Gaudí developed as working resources. The result is breathtaking as it is the precursor to his “Great Church”, the Sagrada Familia.

The Sagrada Família

Gaudí : la Sagrada Família
Gaudí : la Sagrada Família
© Sophie Crépy

The project for a church dedicated to the Holy Family was launched by the Association of Devotees of St Joseph under the aegis of Josep Maria Bocabella, a publisher and socially conscious Catholic. In 1881, he acquired a plot of land outside the city and approached the diocesan architect Paula del Villar, who designed a neo-Gothic project. In 1883, when the crypt was completed, Villar withdrew from the project and offered the chief architect role to Martorell, who in turn entrusted it to Gaudí. The young architect would be able to fulfil his wish to create a large religious structure. He devoted himself exclusively to this project from 1910 and lived onsite permanently from 1918. He was aware that the work would not be completed in his lifetime and therefore decided to construct an entire façade, the Nativity façade. In his workshop and onsite, co-workers and artisans swarmed around scale models, casts and creations in-situ. Gaudí’s work was plastic and architectural, and popular yet learned in equal measure. He was keen to reintroduce Christian theology into the daily life of the Catalan people and so he drew inspiration from the natural surroundings and incorporated colour. From a construction perspective, he produced a temple with numerous towers and walls without flying buttresses by creating a forest of pillars reminiscent of trees and their branches.

Epilogue

Gaudí : épilogue
Gaudí : épilogue
© Sophie Crépy

Gaudí's work was built around paradoxes: light and shade, refinement and austerity, pride and humility. He died as a result of a tragic accident; he was hit by a tram on 7 june 1926 and passed away three days later, prompting an outpouring of grief in Barcelona. His legacy is complex, combining popular enthusiasm for the man himself and rapid loss of interest in his work. Gaudí was rediscovered by the Surealists, and fellow Spaniard Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) in particular turned the spotlight back on him, paving the way from the 1930s to the 1960s for him to be recognised as a pioneer of modernity. From Paris to New York, 20th century avant-gardes eventually came to see his work as a milestone in the history of architecture.. Ironically, this recongnition resulted in the adoption of Gaudí by the very people who, after ignoring him, subjected his work to scrutiny through the lens of a historical context to which he never aspired to belong. Today, accepting the complexity of his work as a whole means that we must acknoledge its enigmatic autonomy, which both rejects and forges connections between two centuries.