Barcelona IX: Art Museums

There are lots of museums in this beautiful city, and we’ve touched on a few already – the Maritime Museum (Barcelona V: La Rambla) and the Museu D’Historia de Barcelona (Barcelona VII: The Old City, called the “Barri Gòtic” or Gothic Quarter).  In this post we’ll visit the small but wonderful Museu D’Modernisme de Català, and then briefly visit Barcelona’s main art museum, Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya.  Somehow we still managed to miss a bunch of museums here, like the Picasso Museum, the museum (Fundació) of Joan Miro, and the Chocolate Museum (we missed a chocolate museum!!?.  Must be an excuse to come back).

Museu D’Modernisme de Català

This small museum is dedicated exclusively to Catalan Art Nouveau (or Modernista) from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.  It’s located in the Eixample neighborhood (Barcelona I, the Eixample) and is fittingly in a Modernista building, a former textile factory built in 1902.  A lot of the decorative art in this museum is simply the furniture from the trendy houses of the newly rich during this period.  Furniture, you sneer?  Oh, wait and see, you skeptic! These furniture makers took art and function to a new level.  As an example, the picture on the left shows an umbrella stand (!).  It’s different, functional and beautiful.

The rich in Barcelona were very rich, and the artists were very, very good.  In addition to the Modernista style of curved lines and emphasis on Nature, much of the furniture I’ll show you employs marquetry (wood inlay).  Using up to 40 different types of wood, the furniture decoration can look like a painting; don’t be fooled, it’s inlay.  There’s a lot of gorgeous furniture here, by many artists, but I’m going to show you just pieces from the cabinetmaker Joan Busquets i Jané, who also did that umbrella stand.  There’s a lot of his work here, all of it stunning.

Below is a writing desk that Busquets made around 1896.  That base may look a bit stodgy, but that hinged desktop!  It’s amazing!  The marquetry of the lady weaving a tapestry is

spectacular; her dress is fabulous, the entire design exquisite.

The pictures below show a 3-panel screen.  It’s really nice, but I’m showing it now because

the one below, a 4-panel screen, is incredible.  Its marquetry is spectacular, but I don’t want you to think that Busquets was defined by this technique.  He was very inventive, and

marquetry was just one of his tools.  Below is an oak piece labeled “office furniture”, with interesting carving.

The coffer-writing desk shown below is spectacular and has a lot going on (maybe too much?), but individual details are wonderful.  That last picture above of the stylized cat

I find quite interesting. Busquets experimented a lot within the world of decorative arts, and his work is considered by many as the precursor for Art Deco, the style that followed Modernism.  That cat is very much Art Deco!

I hope you’re not tired of Busquets, because there is much more!  Below are two display

cases with beautiful decorations.  I personally think the piece shown below is awkward, but I love its rose motif inlay, including what I think is a clear depiction of black spot

(a fungal disease of roses) on one of the leaves.  If true, isn’t that cute??

The item below is called “Hall furniture”.

Humor me with just a few more items from Busquets, an oak dining room table, a

buffet, and one last display cabinet.  Of course there’s a lot more of the decorative arts from other artists in this museum!  A few are shown below.

Some of the furniture in this museum was designed by Gaudí for his famous buildings.  Gaudí designed not only the buildings but also the smallest details in the buildings, including furniture.  The picture on the left is a hat rack of oak and wrought iron from

Gaudí’s Casa Calvet, the first residential building he built in L’Eixample (alas, we did not visit it – not sure you can).  On the right is a “boardroom bench” from Casa Calvet.  The chairs below are from Casa Batlló (Barcelona III: Casa Batlló), along with a photograph of

some of the original furniture in that amazing house.  Interestingly, the secretary shown below was a collaboration between Gaudí and Busquets.  It didn’t say what house the

secretary was from, but the design would have fit in nicely with Casa Batlló.

This museum also has some beautiful paintings, stained glass and sculpture.  Some of the stained glass is shown below.  The first two pictures, depicting a garden, are of a window

from Casa Trinxet, a L’Eixample Modernista building by Josep Puig i Cadafalchin (demolished in 1965 despite public outcry).  The first picture on the 2nd row is just an overview to show that these windows are not small!!  The last picture is cloisonné rather than stained glass.

The paintings aren’t bad either.  The pictures below are from the Spanish painter Gaspar Camps.  What?  You never heard of him?  We hadn’t either; he was born just a decade after

the Czech Art Nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha, whom we love (and the subject of a post once we write about our Czech visit), and Camps was clearly influenced by Mucha – to such an extent that he was called the Mucha Catalan.  If you like Mucha, you might want to check him out.

Another painter you know by now is Ramon Casas i Carbó, one of the backers of Els Quatre Gats (Barcelona VII: The Old City, called the “Barri Gòtic” or Gothic Quarter), and a big man in the intellectual and cultural scene of Barcelona at this time.  The first two pictures below are very nice charcoal/pastel drawings by Casas.  For the other two

pictures, obviously influenced by the Impressionists, I liked the water in the first and the very Toulouse-Lautrec-ish-ness of the last.

The sculpture was also impressive, as shown below.

Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya

Well!  This is developing into a long post!  I spent a lot of time showing you the small Museu D’Modernisme, so I’ll compensate by spending less time at this big one, housed in the grand Palau Nacional (built for the 1929 World Expo).  In truth, part of the reason we spent less time here was an incident involving Barcelona’s high-crime gypsy population.  I’ll tell the story in hopes that readers who travel might be better prepared.  Walking up the subway stairs that lead to the street in front of the Palau Nacional, 3 Romanians tried to steal my camera which (I thought) was hidden in an outer compartment of my backpack.  The theft was well-planned.  With the 3 walking more-or-less abreast right behind me, the middle guy unzipped the compartment holding my camera (without me noticing).  His plan was to yank out the camera and run down the stairs toward the subway, where the passageway splits into different tunnels.  I would instantly notice the change in weight, if nothing else, turn to catch the guy, and bump into the remaining two “innocent” guys right behind me.  What saved me was Ginger lagging behind on the steps, seeing the middle guy unzipping my bag, and screaming for the police.  I whirled and grabbed the middle guy, the other two running up the steps.  I asked Ginger if this was the guy (I didn’t know exactly what was going on, and he wasn’t protesting), but suddenly he whirled out of my grasp and ran down the (marble) steps.  So I tried to tackle him on the steps, from above, but either because my backpack shifted or he turned his shoulders, I was thrown off onto said steps, dislocating my shoulder.  The (plainclothes) police were there almost instantly and caught the other two Romanians (beautiful Barcelona does have a big petty crime problem that they’re addressing).  So the camera was fine, but we spent some time in a hospital and in a courtroom dealing with this issue.  The point: I think we would not have been a target had the camera been in an interior compartment of the backpack.

Back to the museum; in addition to a lot of art, much of it Catalan, it also has magnificent views of Barcelona from its terrace, as shown below.  Often called “the Prado of

Romanesque art”, it holds Europe’s best collection of Romanesque frescoes, mostly saved from remote Catalan village churches.  There’s also a lot of painted wooden alter fronts and ornate statuary.  Alas, those topics, mostly from the 1000’s to 1400’s, are not our favorite.  To be sure, there are paintings from José de Ribera, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Fra Angelico, Salvador Dalí, and Pablo Picaso, but we made a bee-line to see more of the Modernisme decorative arts.  Interestingly, they weren’t better than what we had seen – but, of course, they’re still beautiful.  Below are some pretty spectacular pictures of

cloisonné stained glass.  And below, more furniture (and a vase).

I’ll finish this post with some night pictures from this museum and the “Magic Fountain”.  The area in front of the Palau Nacional was the fairgrounds of the 1929 World Expo, with 3 squares on different levels, waterfalls in  the center, and the Magic Fountain in the first square (all designed by the modernisme architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch).  The Magic

Fountain takes its name from the impression it created in ’29, and it is absolutely mesmerizing even today.  The fountain has a large number of different water jets, a huge number of different combinations, and impressive lighting options.  It’s a water ballet.   I’ll give you a taste with a whole bunch of pictures.

OK!  The next post is not to be missed.  We’ve been saving it for last.  The building of the Sagrada Familia (translation: Holy Family) Roman Catholic church was started in 1882 and taken over by Gaudí 1883.  Today this magnificent Gothic/Art Noveau/Modern incredible basilica is nearing completion (well, within a decade anyway).  Designed 130 years ago, it’s still futuristic.  As one art critic said, “It is probably impossible to find a church building anything like it in the entire history of art”.  And that’s an understatement.  It is breathtaking.  Below are some teasers, pictures from the internet.




Barcelona VIII: Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau

Another Barcelona post?  We loved Barcelona, and we’re leading up to showing you the amazing Sagrada Familia – which was recently profiled in Time magazine, even.  Fear not – only this post and one other before we visit that incredible cathedral.

The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and of Saint Paul) is a masterpiece of Catalan Modernisme, the turn-of-the-century architectural style that pervades Barcelona and that I’ve been showing off yea these many posts.  The hospital’s construction was started in 1902 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, one of the Modernisme architects that we’ve met in previous posts (Barcelona II: Casa Lleo Morera, 1905, ; Barcelona IV: Palau de la Musica Catalana, 1908).  Twelve pavilions were finished by Montaner (who died in 1923), with another 15 finished by his son (but only 4 in Modernista style); the hospital complex was opened around 1926.  Although you might think “Sant Pau” stands for Saint Paul the apostle, you’d be wrong; the primary donor for the hospital was Pau Gil, a Catalan banker who left money in his will for a health center bearing his first name.  Somewhere I think there’s a sly sense of humor at play.

The hospital complex that Montaner designed was a “city within a city”, isolated by interestingly turning the square hospital site 45° to the existing street plan of Barcelona.  Clever!  The ground plan of the hospital is centered on intersecting vertical and horizontal axes that create a cross, the emblem of the former Hospital de la Santa Creu.  The individual pavilions are arranged symmetrically along the axes, each pavilion dedicated to a medical specialty (but linked together via underground pedestrian galleries that are pretty spiffy, as shown below).

Montaner was sensitive to the emerging theories of public health, and central to his plans were large open-air areas for patients’ enjoyment and well-being, with two gardens per pavilion.  Each pavilion was named for a patron saint, their statue presiding over the entrance.  With Victorian sensibilities in place, pavilions on the right were for men (with statues of male saints) and pavilions on the left for women (with statues of women saints).  The hospital complex is famous, however, not for its layout but for the pavilions’ fabulous and pervasive Modernisme designs – artistic flourishes of brick, stone, tile and ceramics in spectacular floral patterns, as well as emblems of Barcelona and Catalan history.

So let’s see it!  We’ll start with the entrance pavilion, which housed the hospital administration.  It’s the largest building and has the richest ornamentation.  As shown in the pictures below, the central building is crowned by a slender clock tower (one of Barcelona’s iconic landmarks), with the building’s lateral arms curving in a welcoming

embrace.  In a nice touch, note that the entrance doors (pictured below) are protected by guardian angels, two of which are shown below.

The outside of this building is adorned with other angel statues, statues of Catalan historical figures (mostly at the corners), and 16 impressive mosaic murals that encircle the building and depict events in the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau’s history, a few

shown above.  Modernista detail is lavishly applied to the exterior (examples below), but the art is sufficiently separated that it manages to avoid the “too much” effect.

We’ll come back to view the amazing interior of this building, but first let’s look beyond the entrance pavilion.  Views of the hospital pavilions as seen from the Administration Pavilion are shown below, as well as an example of a garden.  In the first picture, the main

thoroughfare leads to the Operations Pavilion and behind that the Sister’s Convent pavilion.  Look at the open space!  This very roomy hospital/garden concept was a new one in the evolution of medicine, the idea being that trees and plants would provide better air, shade in summer, and a cheerful, optimistic atmosphere for recovery – far different from the previous medieval Santa Creu hospital that it replaced, which dated back to 1401.  The open area of this hospital far surpassed that of any other European hospital of its time.  Although the overall hospital layout is impressive, it’s mostly the Art Nouveau (eg, Modernisme) artwork that makes this a World Heritage Site.  Referring back to the first picture just above, note that the hospital pavilions have a similar structure and appearance – but that uniformity is deceptive; the art on each is a distinct riff on a theme.  As an example, below are the domes on a number of the pavilions; there is very little real duplication.

So let’s look at those pavilions!  We’ll start with the distinctive Operations Pavilion in the center of the main thoroughfare.  As the name implies, it was the surgical center.  Two of

the men’s pavilions are shown below.  The first picture, of roof tops, shows the Pavilion of Saint Rafael in the lower right corner and St. Manuel behind.  The Pavilion of Saint Rafael itself is shown in the next picture, and details of its colorful roof after that.  The Pavilion

of Saint Manuel (from 2 sides) is shown in the next pictures.

Crossing over to the women’s pavilions, the first picture below shows the roofs of the Pavilion of Our Lady of Montserrat, with the dome of the Pavilion of Our Lady of Mercy in

the foreground.  I’ll just show off some of the sculptures from the latter pavilion – the sculptures are always interesting, and all different; and although they’re everywhere, they

fit in nicely with the buildings.  And of course the tiles (examples below) are delightful.

Yes, I’ve shown a bunch of Modernista/Art Nouveau detail on the pavilions, but I can’t resist showing off a bit more of the wonderful art that’s everywhere.

Most of the pavilions are not open for tourists, the major exceptions being the Administration Pavilion and the Pavilion of Saint Rafael (named for Rafael Rabell, who helped pay for it).  The Pavilion of Saint Rafael originally housed the trauma department and had 44 beds.  It retains its original essence today; it has not been renovated or

redesigned.  The pavilions included a broad lengthwise ward for the hospitalization of patients and a circular “day room” in which patients not confined to bed could be with their families.  The walls and ceilings were covered in ceramics for hygienic reasons, since ceramic materials are easy to clean.  Interestingly, in that last picture above, the ceramic tile roses are so very similar to the signature stylized roses of Charles Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow from around this same time (Glasgow I, The City).

The other pavilion we can enter is the Administration Pavilion, and it’s the opposite of the very plain Pavilion of Saint Rafael; this Pavilion is gorgeous!  For instance, below are pictures of the foyer, with 9 circular or elliptical vaults clad in striking pink tiles.  The columns aren’t bad either, with their Modernisme flower motifs.  The vaults are decorated

with major symbolic elements, such as the dates (1905 [α] and 1910 [Ω]) of the building’s construction, coats of arms of Barcelona and Catalonia, the cross of Barcelona Cathedral and St. George, etc.  The beautiful stairwell that leads up from the foyer is located

underneath a cupola with a stained glass skylight, exemplifying Modernisme’s focus on light and color.  The cupola is beautiful, and worth a closer look.

Another short set of steps off the foyer leads to this corridor with an impressive tiled

ceiling of many flowers.  The rooms that open to the corridor are also striking (below).

Even more beautiful is the 2nd floor, reached by the main staircase.  Here the vaulted ceilings are 2 floors high, with huge windows.  This first room has 3 gorgeous vaulted

ceilings, shown above (and a view of the Sagrada Familia from the window [it’s coming, it’s coming, promise!).  The adjoining room is even more spectacular; it’s too big for me to capture in an overview, so I had to crib the left image below from the internet.

The floor-to-ceiling windows provide a great overview of the pavilions, as shown in the right picture above, a view I showed you earlier.  The windows themselves are quite attractive, as are the vaulted ceilings overhead.


There’s lots of other artwork to show off in this room, such as the impressive wall shown

above.  I’ll end with a few more pictures of this room’s art.

Well, another long post.  There was so much art jammed into this hospital, but somehow it managed to be balanced; beautiful everywhere, but not overwhelming.  Hope you enjoyed it.

Next post – Barcelona’s art museum highlighting the amazing wood inlay art of the Modernista period.