Art History with Anne

Newsletter February 2023

Live Lectures for February

Barcelona: Catalonian Modernisme

I am all too often asked when Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, often mistaken for the city’s cathedral, will be finished.  Hopefully in 1926 to celebrate the centenary of his death.

Everything about Gaudi is larger than life including his death. Knocked down by a tram, the shabbily dressed architect was mistaken for a tramp and failed to receive proper medical treatment. He died three days later in a pauper’s ward. Thousands citizens attended the funeral of ‘God’s architect’. He was buried in the crypt of his beloved Sagrada Familia, the ’magna opus’ which had dominated his every waking moment since 1915. Becoming a virtual recluse Gaudi lived and worked on the site.  Yet very little was completed upon his death, only the crypt, apse, and part of the Nativity façade. After WW1, the Sagrada Familia was ridiculed as a folly. In the age of austere international Modernism, Gaudi’s uniquely personal vision was not appreciated. His workshop was vandalised during the Spanish civil war in 1936, with many precious plans and models destroyed. However, in the 1950s another visionary artist, Salvador Dali, began to champion Gaudi. Today, partly thanks to the Olympics held in Barcelona in 1992, few have not heard of the Sagrada Familia, the church’s unfinished state adding an intriguing twist. Some 2.5 million people visit it each year, the ticket money going towards the cost of completion.  

When I first saw Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in the mid-1980s, the building could have been mistaken for a ruin rather than a building site. By that stage the Nativity façade had been completed but the shell of the nave had no roof.  

Construction of the Sagrada Familia Church in the spring of 1988.

The mind-numbingly mathematically complex stone vaults, using helicoids, hyperboloids, and hyperbolic paraboloids, covering the nave and transepts were finally completed in 2010 and the basilica consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. Looking up at the vault, Gaudi envisioned a dense canopy of trees with sunlight shining through.

This luminous effect was brought to life once the stained-glass windows by Joan Vila-Grau were installed. Positioned east/west, the light streaming through passes from cool blues and greens in the morning to the vibrant yellows, orange and red of sunset.  Inspired by Tiffany, Gaudi experimented with coloured glass at La Seu, the cathedral in Palma de Mallorca. He envisioned a symphony of coloured light with ‘the light gliding over the windows like water over pebbles.’  Using leading and glass of different textures and thickness, Vila-Grau was able to achieve Gaudi’s luminism. Despite all the tourists, a mystic light imbues the church with a soul, creating a transcendent atmosphere.  Many are moved by the experience.

Many visitors are equally in astonished by the interior of the Palau de la Música Catalana, created by Barcelona’s other outstanding Modernsita architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The city boasts many masterpieces by Domènech: the Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau, the Casa Lleo Morera and the Hotel Espana, where I longingly hope to stay one day! 

The Saló de les Sirenes (Mermaids Room), with paintings attributed to Ramon Casas, now serves as the Breakfast room. 

Domènech, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau  1901-30

In fact, Barcelona is awash with Modernista, the Catalan name for Art Nouveau, with around 1000 buildings designated of architectural interest.  However, Barcelona’s Modernista buildings belong to a much wider cultural Renaissance or Renaixença.  Modernisme encompassed all aspects of Catalonian culture, literature and music as well as painting and the decorative arts. This can be read as a form of National Romanticism, an attempt to assert Catalonian identity in the face of ‘oppression’.  As Catalonia grew in wealth and power, the region strove to re-establish its national identity, separate to Castilian Spain, firstly by restoring its language after 150 years of repression and secondly by a conscious injection of modern ideas. 

With defeat in the 1898 Cuban War, and the ensuing loss of its last overseas colonies, Spain seemed mired in nostalgia, unable to grabble with the loss of imperial status.  Against the image of an isolated decadent Spain, arose the vision of a modern European Catalonia driven by industry and commerce.  Entrepreneurs, a mercantile class that had reaped the benefits of industrialisation and colonisation, saw the benefits of supporting Modernista architecture:  Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, 1st Count of Güell, initially made his fortune from textiles;  the fortune of Pere Milà and his wife Roser Segimón came from coffee plantations in South America; and Josep Batlló i Casanovas, a textile industrialist, married Amàlia Godó Belaunzarán, from the family that founded the newspaper La Vanguardia. Casa Amatller  celebrates the fortune made by Antoni Amatller i Costa from coco and chocolate. Architects and patrons came together, devising a ‘coherent cultural ideology’ based on Modernisme, Nationalism and Mercantilism.

Antoni Gaudi, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), 1906-1912

Join me to explore three aspects of Catalonia Modernisme, the work of Gaudi, Domènech and the impact of Realism and Impressionism on Catalan painting.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet

Friday 10th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

Gaudi took the tenets of Modernista architect to daring extremes and developed a style unmistakably his own, as seen in the serpentine curves of the bench of the Park Güell  (1911-13), the undulating forms of the Casa Milà (1906-12) to the impossibly grandiose Roman Catholic Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (1882-), where nature informs both the structure and the decoration. His designs came ‘from the Great Book of Nature’, with his ‘textbooks’ the mountains and caves he loved to explore. Many have criticised Gaudi for his flamboyant style, in many ways a reworking of Gothic forms. George Orwell, who declared La Sagrada Familia to be ‘one of the most hideous buildings in the world’, rather hoped it would be destroyed during the Spanish Civil War. Yet Louis Sullivan, said to be the ‘father of skyscrapers’, described it as ‘spirit symbolised in stone.’ For Manuel Vicent, writing in El Pais, the building’s only saving grace was being unfinished, ‘the dream of a genius driven crazy by mystic reveries.’ La Sagrada Familia came to dominate Gaudi’s life, as the intensely pious architect abandoned other projects. He sought to bring his experimental forms, tried out at the Park Güell and the crypt of the Colònia Güell, to fruition creating a church that was at once structurally perfect, aesthetically satisfying and spiritually fulfilling.

Bench of the Park Güell (1911-13)

Domènech i Montaner

Friday 17th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

Considered the father of Modernisme,  Domènech launched his unique style, blending Gothic with Moorish forms,  with the Castell de Tres Dragons (1888), in the Parc de la Ciutadella. Serving as a restaurant during the 1888 Universal Exhibition, this marks the moment Barcelona asserted its identity as both Catalonian and modern.  The son of a bookbinder, Domenech was a multi-talented intellectual, who engaged in politics, journalism, botany and heraldry amongst other interests. Aside from holding a 45-year tenure as a professor and director at the Escola d’Arquitectura, he orchestrated the mammoth project of the Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau (1902-1930).

Hospital de Santa Creu i Sant Pau (1902-1930)

The Casa Lleó Morera, with furniture and joinery by Gaspar Homar and Josep Pey, as well as sculptures by Eusebi Arnau and stained glass by Antoni Rigalt, is a tour de force, a perfect expression of the gesamtkunstwerk that draws on the talents of several leading artists. Nevertheless, his most stunning contribution to Modernista is the Palau de la Musica Catalana (1905-08), another collaboration drawing on the talents of Lluis Bru i Salelles for the exterior mosaics and Dídac Masana i Majó and Pablo Emilio Gargallo Catalán for the mind-blowing monumental sculptures of the proscenium arch.

Palau de la Musica Catalana (1905-08)

Modernisme: Catalan Painters from Marià Fortuny to Pablo Picasso

Friday 24th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

Many are under the misapprehension that Marià Fortuny was Italian. This mistake arises from the famous fashion House of Fortuny, based in Venice, which was founded by his son Mariano Fortuny. Sadly, Mariano never knew his father, the leading Spanish painter of his day, as he died when his son was only three. Fortuny, who shares the same birthplace as Gaudi and Domènech,  Reus, near Tarragona,  is credited with developing Costumbrismo, thepictorial interpretation of local everyday Hispanic life, customs (costumbres)  and traditions. Although costumbrist painters focused on the precise representation of people and places, allying them to realism, the emphasis on colourful historic dress and events such as fiestas, bull fights and religious festivals, also ties them to romanticism. Fortuny’s vivacious iridescent brushstroke brought new life to Costumbrismo and established Hispanic life as a worthy subject. He paved the way for the next generation, the Modernisme painters.

Marià Fortuny, The Spanish Wedding, 1870

Through his posters and other graphic works, Ramon Casas (1866-1932) helped to define Catalan Modernisme. He was one of the founders of the café Els Quatre Gats (Four Cats), so named as in Catalan this expression means ‘weird’ people, namely artists, writers, and outsiders.  The café was opened in 1897 by four artists- Miguel Utrillo, Pere Romeu, Santiago Rusiñol (1861-1931) and Casas. It soon became a meeting place for the avant-garde. The same circle of artists founded the art magazine of the same name, illustrated by themselves, in which they also voiced their ideas and opinions. 

Santiago Rusiñol i Prats, Gardens of Aranjuez, 1911

Exhibitions and concerts were held at the café, providing opportunities for younger artists: Pablo Picasso (1871-1973) had his first exhibition at the Els Quatre Gats. Although born in Malaga, Picasso’s family moved to Barcelona in 1895.  He thought of the city as his home, even learning Catalan. In his early works he often depicted Catalan life.

First Communion (1896), Picasso’s first painting, aged fifteen.

Please join me to explore Catalonia Modernisme:  the architecture of Gaudi and Domènech and Catalan Modernist painting.

The lectures will be delivered live by Zoom. They will be uploaded afterwards to my YouTube channel and you will be provided with a private link to view them again at your leisure.
The lectures last for around an hour. There will be a question-and-answer session at the end. As the lectures will be delivered live by Zoom, you will be able to ask your questions in person at the end. You can also use the ‘Chat’ function.

Antoni Gaudí i Cornet

Friday 10th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

Domènech i Montaner

Friday 17th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

Modernisme: Catalan Painters

Friday 24th February 2023 zoom lecture at 11.00 am and repeated at 7.00 pm BST

How to book
The lectures are priced at £10 a session. You can book each lecture separately or all three £25 (one lecture half price!)
Please email Susan Branfield at
Please ask for ‘Morning Lecture’ or ‘Evening Lecture’ when you book your choice as the sessions have different Zoom entry codes
You can pay by cheque or BACS (details will be supplied). Cheques should be made payable to Anne Anderson.
Once you register and pay, you will be sent a separate email with your zoom link. You will need this link to access the lecture on the day so please do not delete it. 
After the lecture you will be sent another private link so you can access the lecture on my YouTube Channel.

Or you can pay directly through Paypal

Lecture one Gaudi

Antoni Gaudi


Lecture 2 Domenech

Domènech i Montaner


Lecture 3 Catalan Painters

Modernisme: Catalan Painters


Three lectures

Gaudi Domènech Modernisme: Catalan Painters


Please join me to explore Catalonia Modernisme

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