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Barcelona Art Nouveau: A Unique Expression of Nationalism in Architecture

Mary and her husband work on international projects and have travelled to many places in Spain.

Hospital Sant Pau: Art Nouveau Centre in Barcelona

Hospital Sant Pau: Art Nouveau Centre in Barcelona

The Search for a Catalan National Architecture

The turn of the 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 revival became the rallying theme that brought together the elements that spurred 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 the trade who, inspired by this movement, targeted their patronage to the rising form of architecture to express their nationalistic commitment.

Great names and architectural masterpieces today are UNESCO World Heritage sites that started with the modernist nationalist ideas of Antonio Gaudi, Lluis Domenech I Montaner, and Josep Puig I Cadalfach.

Artistic Features of the Interior of Palau de la Musica

Artistic Features of the Interior of Palau de la Musica

The Architects of Art Nouveau in Barcelona

When other parts of Spain suffered because of the colonies' loss, Barcelona's growing wealthy class wanted to leave a legacy. They saw their chance to leave a mark and promote the city's increasing uniqueness and separateness in the talented architects. Eusebi Güell, for example, was inspired by the works of Gaudi and supported most of his career.

Aside from Gaudi, the first one to promote the search for national architecture was Lluis Domenech I Montaner and recognized as the Catalan Art Nouveau founder.

The same movement toward nationalism gripped not only the architects but many other Barcelona artists, and their new Modernist Art took on this theme.

They established a cafe, El Quatre Gats, to share their views and provide a venue where they could discuss their cause. In Catalan, these words, Four Cats, usually refer to weird people, 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 immediately became 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 Barcelona's 3 top proponents of Modernism.

Park Guell

Park Guell

1. Lluis Domenech i Montaner

If one architect deserved the Founder of this new art form, it was Lluis Domenech i Montaner.

Montaner first expressed his strong commitment to Catalan nationalist views in a magazine, La Renaixança, entitled "En Busca de Arquitectura Nacional (In Search of a National Architecture).

Catalan Art Noveau's Founder was an architect, politician, physician, writer, and artist. He exerted a powerful force on the minds of that time and convinced architects, artists, industrialists and the majority of the ordinary people to support this expression of Catalan nationalism.

1888 saw his first Catalan modernist building in Barcelona, the Cafe in the World Exhibition, El Castell dels 3 Dragons. This inauguration was a breakthrough as the art patrons saw that modernism's support equated to a strong nationalism commitment. They also so that this architecture style was not just about being different but responding to human needs.

With the 1888 World Exhibition success, there was tremendous support for modernism in the years that followed. 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 registered as an architect in Barcelona in 1873. Still, he continued to write essays on architecture, technical books, and articles in newspapers and journals, further promoting the ideas of the Renaixança. Specifically, architects sought to feature the Catalan heritage and culture in their works and celebrate the human impact on architecture rather than the strict formalism and Empire architecture from Europe.

Montaner also held a 45-year tenure as a professor and director at the Escola d'Arquitectura, Barcelona's architecture school.

His energy, however, was entirely 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 organizers 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." Re-elected in 1903, but in 1904, he abandoned politics to devote himself to architectural research.

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Palau de la Musica

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 shop at Placa de Gracia in Barcelona and see a beautiful building housing the store Loewe, look up. You will immediately recognize the marks of Montaner. You cannot help but smile.

The picture below shows the hospital ceiling constructed to give Catalans a place to recover from sickness. This picture is of 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 they finished only 27 because of the budget. Still, watch the video and see how impressive these buildings are still today. The concept is outstanding, and after looking at cathedrals and traditional monuments to Government, it impacts your assumptions of architecture.

Ceiling of Sant Pau

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 famous architects of Modernism in Barcelona. His works expressed his creative genius and his love for nature. He put his stamp on 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 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 UNESCO declared seven of his works as World Heritage sites. It is not just the traditional shapes of architecture but also the integration of all art forms into the buildings.

When visiting the great church, the Sagrada Familia, you can see his genius as the natural light envelops you enhanced by the stained glass's colours. 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. Its massive columns feel like trees, and the integration of nature into all the decorations 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 in Barcelona.

However, at the Paris World's Fair of 1878, Gaudi's display of the globe manufacturer Cornella impressed the Catalan industrialist Eusebi Guell. He gave him his most important commissions: the Guell wine cellars, the Guell Pavilions, the Palau Guell, the Park Guell and the crypt in Colonia Guell. Brilliance combined with enthusiastic wealth had the inevitable outcomes!

In 1883, he worked on the Sagrada Familia cathedral. He completely changed the design from staid to one of the world's most significant examples of art, architecture, and imagination. He has had other commissions since then, such as Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and others across Spain.

La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

Gaudi, The Solitary Figure

He remained single all his life and dedicated himself to his religion and work, a bit of a solitary figure. During his walk to the church, Sant Felip Neri, a tram hit him for his prayer and confession. People thought he was just a beggar, so he got no help 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 deteriorated. In the 1950s, Gaudi's legacy started to get recognition with the Friends of Gaudi Association's support. In 1984, his works, the Park Güell, the Palau Güell and the Casa Mila, were declared UNESCO World Heritage sites.

This recognition was further enhanced in 1998 when the Archbishop of Barcelona recommended the beatification of Gaudi so that people again paid attention to him. In 2005, UNESCO declared more of his works 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 vault of the Colonia Guell in Santa Coloma de Cervello.

More recognition followed, and, today, no visitor in Barcelona could miss the extraordinary genius of Antoni Gaudi.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

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 the church door shows how Gaudi incorporated nature into his art, an unusual imaginative feature.

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 other picture of Gaudi's works is that of Casa Batllo. This house displays modern architectural elements that you have to see.

Gaudi has many other works, and 7 of them, UNESCO World Heritage Site gave distinction.

Door at La Sagrada Familia

Door at La Sagrada Familia

3. Josep Puig i Cadafalch

Born in 1867, Josep Puig i Cadafalch has 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. The cafe El Quatre Gats, the first gathering place of the Modernists in Barcelona, resides 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) 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, which accounted for his survival as an architect beyond the Modernist period.

He was President of the academic institution Institut d'Estudis Catalans from 1942 to his death in 1956.

Casa Amatller

Casa Amatller

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, the CaixaForum uses it for regular art displays and exhibitions.

The Wikipedia listing of his works all over Spain reached 71, quite an achievement.

Cassarramona-Caixa Forum

Cassarramona-Caixa Forum

Top 3 Works of the Most Distinguished of the Art Nouveau Architects in Barcelona

Antoni GaudiLluis Domenech i MontanerJosep Puig i Cadafalch

La Sagrada Familia

Hospital de Sta. Creu i de Sant Pau

Casa Amatller

Palau Guell and Park Guell

Castle of the 3 Dragons


Casa Battlo

Palau de la Musica

Els Quatre Gats

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 vital 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 essential 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. The Catalan artisans 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 movements towards the modern incorporation of the nation's heritage helped make these masterpieces symbols of Catalan political identity.

Associated industries also rose around construction, the new techniques required, and the need to outfit 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, the Barcelona Architecture School opened to support the demand for skills in these new constructions.

In 1891, municipal bylaws' changes further freed many Modernist architects' imaginations 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, elements were 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 more precise lines bringing him closer to Noucentisme.

Palau de la Musica

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 Art Nouveau architects' works decayed until appreciation and support once again gained proponents.

Today, these sites draw so many visitors and leave people looking at how these architectural geniuses had done much creativity and innovation. They have become the central pillar of the billion-euro Barcelona tourist industry. But if you can take a bit of time and gaze at the structures, they may change your mind on the importance of art and architecture to a nation's feeling of uniqueness.

Your Thoughts on Architecture


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Mary Norton


Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 06, 2020:

It's truly fascinating to know more about Barcelona's art nouveau. It was one of the highlights of our trip.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 04, 2020:

Hi Mary,

Even though I made a comment almost 2 years ago, I just wanted to take another look at your fabulous photography of the art nouveau buildings in Barcelona. It reminds me of our trip there many years ago. That city is amazing!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 18, 2019:

Thanks Denise. As an artist Barcelona would be heaven for you.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on August 17, 2019:

Wow, these are incredibly amazing. I love the Casa Batllo where the facade looks more like a sculpture than a functional wall. These must have been magnificent to see. You have been richly blessed. Great descriptions of the times and the artists too. Thanks for sharing this.



Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 17, 2018:

You were lucky to have seen it at that time.

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on November 16, 2018:

You are an expert traveller with a vast amount of information. It's amazing how much you've seen and know about so many parts of the world. Your travel Hubs are very informative. I have been to Barcelona but that was all the way back in 1978.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 14, 2018:

Yes, Barcelona is a must visit place. It has so much to offer. Thank you for the visit.

Dianna Mendez on April 14, 2018:

The Casa Amatller is stunning and I would certainly visit the chocolate store if I visited the area. Would be so nice to take a vacation one day to these beautiful sites.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 05, 2018:


Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 05, 2018:

Thank you Nithya. The chocolates in that Casa are heavenly.

Nithya Venkat from Dubai on April 04, 2018:

Enjoyed reading about the architecture, the photos are great. I love the Casa Amatller, it looks beautiful.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2018:

I'll read it again.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 02, 2018:

I spoke too soon. Apparently the article on Porto is not published. As you have read it, I wondered if you might have any suggestions on what I need to change or improve to get it published please?

Eurofile on April 02, 2018:

Thanks. You are my first reader.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2018:

Congrats, I will go and open it.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 02, 2018:

I've just submitted my first article, so here's hoping it works!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 02, 2018:

I put many, too. I will try to test it. Make sure you have compressed your pictures. I don't really through I reduce the pixels.

Eurofile on April 02, 2018:

Your comment about load times has alarmed me slightly. Fairly new to Hub Pages, I've been working on an article for a while and worry now that there might be too many photos.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 01, 2018:

Thank you Frank for your generous comment. I love history.

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on April 01, 2018:

wow an amazing historical and informative piece Mary you covered this like a history buff... again amazing

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 01, 2018:

Thank you Virginia.

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on March 31, 2018:

You've covered this quite thoroughly. Well done.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2018:

I agree with you as we were there for over 2 months but I can say we haven't done many things we wanted to do.

Readmikenow on March 27, 2018:

Very impressed with this article. The pictures are also excellent. When I went to Barcelona, I had no idea what I was looking at as I thought they were just really interesting buildings. Now, I want to go back and see them. Anyone who has been to Barcelona knows there are many great things to do there.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2018:

Thank you Eurofile. I wish I can put more pictures but I worry about load time but you have a more vivid idea because you had been there.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2018:

Thanks Li-Jen. Nationalism was a strong push for artists to rediscover their Catalan heritage.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 27, 2018:

Thanks Ms. Dora. It is indeed amazing what passion can do.

Liz Westwood from UK on March 27, 2018:

Having been to Barcelona, I really enjoyed learning more about the architecture in this article.

Li-Jen Hew on March 27, 2018:

Hey Mary, it's good that you wrote this article. It makes people appreciate art more and their origins rather than just going for a holiday. So the nationalist movement is intended for the culture of Catalans or their needs...I see.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on March 26, 2018:

"Barcelona today has the greatest number of buildings listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites and most of them are from this era." This is absolutely impressive. Passion, strength, and all things progressive characterize these artists. All the architecture is spectacular but the stone work in Park Guell is mind-boggling. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 26, 2018:

Thank you Bill. You're always encouraging.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 26, 2018:

I love your zest for travel and your eye for beauty. Your photos are always exquisite.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on March 25, 2018:

Thanks, this was very interesting.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 25, 2018:

Yes, you're right. There are similar elements but the Catalans used much of their own heritage as they were making a point.

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on March 24, 2018:

Interesting. The architecture looks very different from Art Nouveau architecture in the United States.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 24, 2018:

Thank you Leonie. You're not far.

Leonie M from Belgium. on March 24, 2018:

Simply beautiful! Love Spain my second home. Thanks a lot for sharing your well-written article.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 24, 2018:

Thank you Nikki. I am trying to share what I have seen.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 24, 2018:

Thank you, Linda. You still have much time and Spain is a small country.

Nikki Khan from London on March 24, 2018:

A wonderful writing on Barcelona Mary, loved it’s rich architecture and historical buildings.Got to know abiut Gaudi architecture which is worth watching of course.

You’ve done an excellent job here.Enjoyed this visit through history of Barcelona.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 23, 2018:

The photos of the architecture are very interesting. I wish I could explore Spain as you have done. You've seen some wonderful places!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 23, 2018:

Gaudi's imagination and creativity is truly genius.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 23, 2018:

It is worth visiting especially Barcelona.

Glen Rix from UK on March 23, 2018:

Gaudi architecture is certainly unusual!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 23, 2018:

What beautiful architecture! I’d love to see this in person. Your travel articles if Spain have definitely made me want to visit.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 23, 2018:

Thanks Peggy. You can't escape these Art Nouveau when you're in Barcelona. I thought of you as I walked through the huge Olympic Park.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 23, 2018:

We were so fortunate to be able to see some of this when we were in Barcelona during the summer Olympics many years ago. That particular form of art is so distinctive and memorable. Wonderful article!

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