Modernisme (Catalan pronunciation: [muðərˈnizmə], Catalan for "modernism") was a cultural movement associated with the search for Catalan national identity. It is often understood as an equivalent to a number of fin-de-siècle art movements, such as Art Nouveau, Jugendstil, Secessionism, and Liberty style, and was active from roughly 1888 (the First International Exhibition of Barcelona) to 1911 (the death of Joan Maragall, the most important Modernista poet). The Modernisme movement was centred on the city of Barcelona, and is best-known for its architectural expression, especially the work of Antoni Gaudí, but was also significant in sculpture, poetry, theatre and painting—notable painters include Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas.[1]


Main concepts

'El drac' in the Parc Güell, work by Antoni Gaudí.
The Sagrada Família, an icon of Modernisme, by Antoni Gaudí.
Duana de Barcelona (Customs House), by Enric Sagnier)
Casa Batlló, by Antoni Gaudí, in Barcelona.
Santuari de Santa Maria Magdalena, by José Sala, in Novelda, Valencian Community

Catalan nationalism was an important influence upon Modernista artists, who were receptive to the ideas of Valentí Almirall and Enric Prat de la Riba and wanted Catalan culture to be regarded as equal to that of other European countries. Such ideas can be seen in some of Rusiñol's plays against the Spanish army (most notably L'Hèroe), in some authors close to anarchism (Jaume Brossa and Gabriel Alomar, for example) or in the articles of federalist anti-monarchic writers such as Miquel dels Sants Oliver. They also opposed the traditionalism and religiousness of the Renaixença Catalan Romantics, whom they ridiculed in plays such as Santiago Rusiñol's Els Jocs Florals de Canprosa (roughly, "The Poetry Contest of Proseland"), a satire of the revived Jocs Florals and the political milieu which promoted them.

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 (Decadent and Parnassian poets, Symbolist playwrights, etc.) or they attempted to use art to change society (Modernista architects and designers, playwrights inspired by Henrik Ibsen, some of Maragall's poetry, etc.)

Architecture and the plastic arts

The earliest example of Modernista architecture is the café Castell dels tres Dragons designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in the Parc de la Ciutadella for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. It is a search for 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 is basically derived from the English Arts and Crafts movement 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 the dynamic shapes.[2]

Antoni Gaudí is the best-known architect of this movement. Other influential architects were Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and later Josep Maria Jujol and Enrique Nieto.[3]

While Barcelona was the centre of Modernista construction, the Catalan industrial bourgeoisie built industrial buildings and summer residences - cases d'estiueig - in many Catalan towns, notably Terrassa and Reus. The textile factory which is now home to the Catalan national technical museum MNACTEC is an outstanding example.


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. Those writers often, though not always, show influences from Russian literature of the 19th Century and also Gothic novels. Still, works not influenced by those sources, such as Joaquim Ruyra's slice-of-life tales of the North-Eastern Catalan coast are perhaps even more influential than that of the aforementioned authors, and Rusiñol's well-known L'Auca del Senyor Esteve (roughly "The Tale of Mr. Esteve"; an auca is a type of illustrated broadside, similar to a one-sheet comic book) is an ironic critique of Catalan bourgeoisie more related to ironic, pre-Realist Catalan costumisme.

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").


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.

The end of Modernisme

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 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.

UNESCO World Heritage

Some of the works of Catalan Modernism have been listed by UNESCO as World Cultural Heritage:


There were more than 100 architects who made buildings of the Modernista style. Highlighting them about all three: Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

  • Antoni Gaudí, who went beyong 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.[6]
  • Lluís Domènech i Montaner created a genuine alternative architecture. Along with Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas he worked towards a modern and international style. Domenech 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.[7] His Hotel Internacional del Passeig Colom (demolished after the Exposition of 1888) was an early example of industrial building techniques.
  • Josep Puig i Cadafalch: was a Catalan nationalist polititian and historian. The reform of the Casa Amatller in Passeig de Gràcia has elements of both the Catalan tradition as of others originating in the Netherlands or the German Gothic. The Neo-Gothic can be reviewed in the Caves Codorniu (1904).

Other architects

  • Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia, the great builder of buildings for the bourgeoisie to the l'Eixample.
  • Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert, Gaudi's collaborator, creator of the fountain of the Plaça Espanya in Barcelona, and professor of the Escola Superior d'Arquitectura.
  • Cèsar Martinell i Brunet, author of nearly 40 wineries (The Cathedrals of the Wine), and agricultural buildings.
  • Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, author of the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona (gate entrance to the Exposition of 1888) and the Casa Pia Batlló of the Rambla Catalunya, Gran Via.
  • Joan Rubió i Bellver, pupil of Domènech i Montaner and disciple and assistant of Gaudí between 1893 and 1905 to the Sagrada Família, to the Casa Batlló and the Parc Güell. He built the Casa Golferichs, the Casa Pomar and the building of the Escola Industrial.
  • Josep Amargós i Samaranch
  • Francesc Berenguer i Mestres
  • Domènec Boada i Piera
  • Cristóbal Cascante i Colom
  • Ferran Cels
  • Eduard Ferrés i Puig
  • Josep Font i Gumà
  • Josep Graner i Prat
  • Miquel Madorell i Rius
  • Bernardí Martorell i Puig
  • Rafael Masó i Valentí
  • Francesc de Paula Morera i Gatell
  • Lluís Muncunill i Parellada
  • Camil Oliveras i Gensana
  • Ignasi Oms i Ponsa
  • Pere Caselles i Tarrats
  • Josep Maria Pericas i Morros
  • Josep Pujol i Brull
  • Pere Ros i Tort
  • Manuel Vega i March

See also


  1. ^ Hughes, Robert (1993) 'Barcelona', London, ISBN 0 00 272167 8, p. 253.
  2. ^ Solà-Morales, I, (1992) 'Arquitectura Modernista, fi de segle a Barcelona', Barcelona, ISBN 84 252 1563 3.
  3. ^ Mackay, David, 'Modern architecture in Barcelona, 1854-1929', Barcelona, 1985.
  4. ^ Official List of the UNESCO site "Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, Barcelona" (1997)
  5. ^ Official List of the UNESCO Site "Works of Antoni Gaudí" (1994, 2005)
  6. ^
  7. ^

External links

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