Catalan Modernism: Art Nouveau in Barcelona

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At the turn of the 20th Century, Catalan Modernism or Art Nouveau dominated Barcelona. Above all, the movement peaked in architecture, design and decorative arts. The style is essentially traditional. In contrast, it introduced revolutionary designs. Interesting enough, modernist buildings are the last two dimensional. Decoration dominates over function, shapes are dynamic and motifs organic. Additionally, asymmetry is everywhere and colors and materials are of the utmost importance.

Art Nouveau around Europe

Internationally the movement is known as Art Nouveau. However, technically speaking the term is exclusively French and Belgian. On the other hand, in Austria-Hungary the name is Sezession, in Germany Jugendstil, in The Netherlands Nieuwe Kunst and in Italy Floreale. It’s fascinating to discover that the style is so different in each country. For sure they have in common the above mentioned decorative principles. Nevertheless, the style reflects each country’s culture. That is why in Catalonia, Gothic and Moorish architecture heavily influence Modernism.

Art Nouveau in Barcelona

The bourgeoisie promoted the Art Nouveau style in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia. Seems like they wanted to display their wealth through lavishly decorated architectural masterpieces. Additionally, this style made them feel modern while expressing their national identity. With their financing, modernism spread all over Catalonia and further into Spain. However, it reached its peak in Barcelona. Hence, hundreds of modernist buildings mushroomed all over the city. Most of them in flourishing L’Eixample. Our guide includes masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and other geniuses of Catalan modernism.

These are our favorite Art Nouveau buildings in Barcelona. You can visit them on your own.

Palau Güell

Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3 – 5

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

House – museum. Open to visitors.

Gaudí designed the Palace for industrial magnate Güell. He lived there with his family, until moving to Park Güell. Noteworthy, this is Gaudí’s first completely modernist building. It features typical elements such as colored chimneys and iron ornaments. He considered the assignment so important that he designed 25 different façades. As you will see, important guests accessed the house directly with their horse carriages. Guests would go up to the richly decorated receiving room and horses down to the underground stable.

Palau de la Música Catalana

Carrer Palau de la Música, 4 – 6

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

Music Hall. Open to visitors.

The Palau was built for the prominent choral society Orfeó Català. Wealthy Barcelonans financed its construction. Unlike most modernist buildings its style is functional. Nevertheless, decorations are still very important. The Palau’s highlight is the majestic concert hall. A glass dome covers it. Several sculptures influenced by ancient mythology, classical and folk musical elements decorate the hall. Another beauty is the huge sculpture known as ‘The Catalan folk song’. As you can see from the picture it dominates the original red brick façade. Even more, it represents the people of Catalonia.

Casa Lleó Morera

Passeig de Gràcia, 35

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

Residential building. Not open to visitors.

Modernist buildings line the left side of Passeig de Gràcia between Consell de Cent and Aragó. The first one walking from Plaza Catalunya towards Gracia is Casa Lleó Morera. Architect Domenech i Montaner remodeled the entire building. He created a new façade with several stone balconies and a new interior. Both the richly decorated façade and mezzanine are full of symbolism. Take note of the numerous mulberries on the façade alluding to the Morera surname. You might also notice several allegories to 20th Century inventions. We have learned that adding the small temple high on the top required a special permit.

Casa Amatller

Passeig de Gràcia, 41

Architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch

Institute. Open to visitors.

On the same block not far from the previous house we find Casa Amatller, another complete reconstruction. The new façade includes different influences from Romanic, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. Take note that the windows are not vertically aligned and that the composition is slightly asymmetrical. There’s a photography studio on the top floor. According to law, the studio walls could not touch the side buildings, thus the stepped roof. Ocher, white and red ocher sgraffito, metallic glazed tiles, green carpentry, black forging and grey stone richly decorate the façade.

Casa Batlló

Passeig de Gràcia, 43

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Residential building. Open to visitors.

The Batlló family bought the building in 1900 and hired Gaudí to redesign it. Gaudi built the original building too, but in a more conservative classical style. The building is very innovative. However, three motives stand out. The openness of the ground floor and the first floor; the colorful façade with characteristic balconies; and the arched roof with a strange spire resembling a dragon like creature. Regardless of these important elements, Gaudí never compromised the building’s functionality. Lighting and ventilation were very important to him. It’s Gaudí’s first project without any straight line.

Casa Xina / Ferran Guardiola

Carrer de Muntaner, 54

Architect: Juan Francisco Guardiola Martínez

Residential building. Not open to visitors.

Casa Ferran or Casa Xina (China) is the most peculiar of all the buildings in this group. Artistically it blends late modernism with early art deco. Three Guardiola brothers moved from Valencia to Barcelona so they needed to build a house. They were world travelers, thus the different influences: Ionic columns on the ground floor, Asian decorations on the upper floors and Arabic elements all over the place. Such abundance of decorations is probably the one thing this house shares with other modernist buildings.

Casa Sayrach

Avinguda Diagonal, 423 – 425

Architect: Manuel Sayrach i Carreras

Residential building. Not open to visitors.

One of the last modernist buildings is Casa Sayrach. Heavily influenced by Gaudí it maintains a pretty reserved anatomy. There is a limited use of materials and the absence of colors. The exterior has no decoration, except for minor details. Instead, the building’s shape is what makes it so elegant. A tall spire dominates the façade, there is a continuous first floor and a curved roof clearly inspired by Gaudí. On the other side the elements like sea animals, shells and bones decorate the interior lavishly.

Casa Vicens

Carrer de les Carolines, 20

Architect: Antoni Gaudí & Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez

House – museum. Open to visitors.

Gaudí’s first masterpiece was the summer house of the Vicens family. The original project included just a smaller house attached to a larger building on the right. The building was demolished in 1925. Architect Joan Baptista Serra de Martínez enlarged the house in the same original style. It was the first time Gaudi used modernist style decorations. These included colorful ceramic tiles, curvy steel elements and rooftop domes and chimneys. The original garden surrounding the house was much bigger and included a cascade, a fountain and a viewing platform.

Casa Fuster

Passeig de Gràcia, 132

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

5 Star Hotel. Roof top terrace open to visitors.

Mr. Fuster gifted the house to his wife. He wanted to embellish Barcelona and could afford expensive materials like high quality marble. At that time it was probably the most expensive house in town. Located on the corner of Passeig de Gràcia and a smaller street, it has three different façades. As in his other works, Gothic art heavily inspired the architect (check out the window openings and roof spires). After the family moved out it served different uses, including a dancing room. Outrageously enough, the house was almost demolished in 1962. Luckily for us, that didn’t happen.

Casa Milà / La Pedrera

Passeig de Gràcia, 92

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Residential building. Open to visitors.

Casa Milà is Gaudí’s last residential building. Considered revolutionary by many due to the exaggerated curves expressed in the marble façade and steel iron balconies. Unlike the two dimensional Batlló, here the curves occupy all dimensions. There is no rectangular line, and all of the apartments have an irregular shape. Originally Gaudí proposed giant sculptures of the Virgin Mary and of two archangels on the top of the building. Such an idea was rejected as the house was built during a strong anticlerical moment. The whole building evokes nature.

Casa Comalat

Avinguda Diagonal, 442 – Carrer Còrsega 316

Architect: Salvador Valeri i Pupurull

Residential building. Not open to visitors.

Casa Comalat is another building influenced by Gaudí. It is quite an interesting modernist experiment with two distinct façades. The main stone façade on Av. Diagonal is more conservative, symmetrical with a regular shape. There are two large Gaudian style balconies and dozens of small ones with sculptural bases and curved wrought iron fences. The rear façade on the other side combines different materials and displays a festival of colors. A massive Gaudian ground floor with windows, wooden galleries and poly-chrome ceramics dominate the house.

Casa Torrades / de les Punxes

Avinguda Diagonal 416 – 420

Architect: Josep Puig i Cadafalch

Residential building. Open to visitors.

Sisters Torrades commissioned the famous modernist architect to build a monumental building occupying the entire block. The modernist building resembles a Gothic structure with a brick façade, Gothic like decorations and six spires. But upon taking a closer look, you will notice that all the ornaments are actually modernist with flower motifs all around. When it comes to the ground floor the architect decided to break with the dominant structural tradition at the time. He eliminated the bearing walls and substituted them with pillars.

Sagrada Família

Carrer de Mallorca, 401

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Church. Open to visitors.

Gaudí’s most spectacular work Sagrada Familía is famous for many reasons. It is the only unfinished Unesco World Heritage Site list. The original plan included three façades: 12 spires representing 12 apostles, 1 for the Virgin Mary, 4 for the 4 evangelists and one for Jesus Christ. Only the Nativity façade with four apostles was built according to Gaudi’s original design. His students designed the Passion façade and the 4 apostles. The Glory façade together with the other towers is yet to be built. Though deeply modernist, Gothic art influences the original design. The impressive decoration even forms part of the structure.

Hospital de Sant Pau

Carrer de Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167

Architect: Lluís Domènech i Montaner

Former Hospital. Open to visitors.

The hospital is one of the largest modernist complexes in the world. Sant Pau occupies a lot of 300m x 300m! Domenech i Montaner designed 13 of the 27 pavilions. The main administrative pavilion is orientated towards the Sagrada Família breaking the orthogonal matrix of the Eixample’s district. Gothic, Neo-Gothic, Byzantine and Germanic architectural styles influence it. Behind the building, there is a long plaza surrounded by 8 almost identical pavilions. Every building has a brick façade with flower ornaments and roofs decorated with colorful ceramic tiles.

Park Güell

Carrer d’Olot

Architect: Antoni Gaudí

Public Park. Open to visitors.

Park Güell is Gaudí’s masterpiece displaying a perfect relationship between architecture and nature. The park was projected as a housing estate with 40 buildings. However, the place became a public park with only two buildings completed. Gaudí’s obsession with organic forms is everywhere: arches supporting pedestrian paths, arcades, pillars under the great gallery, viaducts, etc. Even more, the park is full of political and religious symbolism. Especially interesting is the access staircase that represents Catalan lands and Catholicism. Finally, Gaudi’s assistants designed some elements of the park according to his style.

Catalan Modernism / Art Nouveau in Metropolitan Barcelona

At the beginning of the 20th century Catalan Modernism marked the architecture of Barcelona. Most interesting modernist buildings are located within the city proper, but I assure you there are other wonderful art nouveau masterpieces around theMetropolitan área of Barcelona. Sant Joan Despí is especially interesting.

All six Modernist buildings in Sant Joan Despí are works of the renowned architect Josep María Jujol. Two of them stand out. Can Negre is a reconstructed 17th Century farmhouse. Its baroque inspired façade is full of sgraffiti, mosaics, wood, iron and gypsum. The other interesting building is the fairy tale Torre de la Creu, which houses today the Language School of Barcelona University. It has a peculiar shape that incorporates five cylinders. I find the use of colors and materials interesting.

Map of Catalan Modernism / Art Nouveau in Barcelona

Art Nouveau Tours in Barcelona

2 Responses

  1. […] 10:00 | If you are looking for to check out the city’s architecture but don’t want to fight off the crowds at Sagrada Familia, check out the beautiful architecture at Hospital de Sant Pau. If you are looking for other examples of Catalan Modernism in the city, make sure to take a look at local hero Milos’ list. […]

    • happyfrogtravels
      | Reply

      Thanks guys for mentioning me in your itinerary! Great tips!

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