Santiago Rusiñol, the Cau Ferrat and the Sitges Modernist Festivals

Modernism is not just an architectural style, but a movement that crossed all the arts. Hence, the great importance of Santiago Rusiñol and his modernist festivities, which built an interdisciplinary meeting point for artists and intellectuals of the modernist movement.

Santiago Rusiñol was a multifaceted artist, one of the most important painters of Modernism and one of its leaders in Catalonia. Rusiñol established his studio in Sitges, known as the Cau Ferrat, where he organized his well-known modernist festivals where artists who wanted to regenerate the aesthetics of the arts of the time gathered.

The beginnings

Rusiñol was born on February 25, 1861, in Barcelona, into a family of industrialists. As a young man, he studied drawing and painting in the workshop of Tomás Moragas. The budding artist had his first exhibition at the age of 18 and at 21 he participated in the first exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts in Sabadell.

At the age of 25, Rusiñol married the artist Lluïsa Denís y Reverter with whom he had a daughter the following year. Months later, Santiago handed over the family business to his brother and began to travel around Southern Europe. In 1889, he broke off his relationship with his wife and went to study in Paris. He returned to Catalonia four years later and settled in Sitges, where he founded his new house-studio: the Cau Ferrat.

The Cau Ferrat

The origin of the name of the Cau Ferrat can be found in Santiago Rusiñol’s impressive collection of wrought irons and in his conception of the house as a refuge. Thus, “Cau”, “burrow” in Catalan, refers to the shelter dimension of the building for the modernist artists and “Ferrat”, “ironwork” in Catalan, to the wrought iron.

Rusiñol’s installation in Sitges provokes an aesthetic change in his work, which no longer plays a leading role in the Parisian fog. Now, Rusiñol’s work will take on the Mediterranean light and Sitges’ blue patios as its characteristic element.

The Cau Ferrat soon became a meeting point for modernist artists and intellectuals. Rusiñol lived in this refuge and also organized the well-known “Modernist Festivals”. On his death, by order of his will, the Cau Ferrat was left to the town of Sitges in 1932. A year later, the Town Hall inaugurated a public museum in the building.


The Modernist Festivals

In the modernist festivities of the Cau Ferrat several arts converged: poetry, painting, music and theater. These cultural events had a lot of echo in the press of the moment and had illustrious visitors and participants like Ruben Dario. The best known was the third, dedicated to literature.

  • The first modernist festival was held in 1892 in the form of a Fine Arts Exhibition at the Sitges Town Hall.
  • The second, held in 1893 at the Prado Casino, was dedicated to symbolist theater and music, but also featured theater performances.
  • The third modernist festival was held in 1894 and was dedicated to literature. This had a very characteristic beginning, with the procession to the Cau Ferrat of two paintings by El Greco that Rusiñol had bought from Paris and ended with a literary competition. The latter was attended by different artistic personalities of the time such as Àngel Guimerà and Emilia Pardo Bazán.
  • The fourth took a few years to be held. In 1987, it took place again at the Prado Casino and was dedicated to Catalan lyric theater.
  • The fifth was held at the El Retiro theater two years later, in 1899, and had as its main event a piano concert.

If you have enjoyed discovering the modernist festivals and want to continue learning about Catalan modernism, we recommend that you visit our article: “The Art Nouveau style, a radical reaction” where you can learn things about the modernist architectural style.