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Catalan Modernism

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During the first half of the nineteenth century, Europe experienced a series of economic, social, political cultural changes that were the result of one of the most important events of modern times: the Industrial Revolution. This phenomenon generated a huge exodus from rural areas to the cities, forcing the latter to adapt and take steps to meet the basic needs of their inhabitants. Barcelona was no exception and its response to this great expansion during the second half of the nineteenth century involved an urban transformation that would convert the city into an international benchmark for culture and architecture. The lack of space forced the city to open the walls and provide a larger area, opening out the road leading to modern day Barcelona. This new area was called Eixample and the architect of such a revolutionary approach, based on an arrangement of islands of houses with a space in the centre, was Idelfons Cerdà.

From this phenomenon, a new social class emerged, the bourgeoisie. They were consumers of art with active participation in the political and social environment and with great interest in publicly demonstrating their economic and social power. The best way to do that was through the construction of large, beautiful houses or factories that were designed in accordance with the most innovative aesthetic principles of the moment. It is at this time when a new artistic movement arose, which considered art as a single supreme unity and came to dominate the European scene at the time: Art Nouveau in France and Belgium, Modern Style in the UK, Liberty in Italy, Jugendstil in Germany, Sezessionstil in Austria, and modernism in Catalonia.

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Catalan modernism takes place in the context of a new intellectual climate stimulated by the Renaissance, marked by a period of growth, progress and desire for linguistic and cultural recovery. Cultural reform, together with aesthetic reform, took place within the framework of an industrial Barcelona of great economic vitality. The Universal Exposition in Barcelona in 1888, reflecting the economic, social, urban and architectural development of the period marked the beginning of the height of modernism, thanks to the possibilities for the spreading of artistic ideas that the Exposition created.

Modernism is presented as an eclectic artistic movement with a language in which spontaneous creativity is much stronger than the regulatory requirements of classic lines. It is famous for an interest in ornamentation through curved lines, asymmetry, floral and vegetable multiplicity, the use of zoomorphic and anthropomorphic motifs, the mixture of colour and sinuous shapes, giving the building a sense of fantasy. Modernism involved an extension of the artistic field by integrating all art forms in one single unit; this is visible in the applied arts, but also in other fields such as literature, cinema, music and theatre.

Resulting in one of the most brilliant, artistic and cultural periods, Catalan modernism is defined as an attitude of renewal and in favour of modernity. Modernization of the forms claimed from inspiration in nature, the consciousness of Catalan identity and the use of new materials. Crafts were recovered and adapted to new materials in order to design each piece as a work of art, adapting the form to the function. Modernist architects went beyond simple projection of their buildings; they were also involved in the design of interiors, everyday objects and furniture. Decorative arts played an important role in this field, and so did the different craft workshops which taking nature as a source of inspiration, integrated a single ideal of beauty.

But if modernism acquires its own character it is thanks to those who created the great architectural jewels of Catalonia, such as Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert or Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. In other art forms, we must include the painters Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusiñol; the sculptors Enric Clarasó, Josep Llimona and Eusebi Arnau; the sculptor and interior decoration specialist Alfons Juyol i Bach; the glassmaker Lluís Rigalt; and the blacksmith Manuel Ballarín i Lancuentra, being just some of the great artists and artisans who reclaimed the tradition, crafts and use of nature to create one of the most spectacular movements in the history of art and thought.

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