The Way of the Eccentric Visionaries
Before we take the artists’ path, let us take a walk down memory lane and travel to the beginning of the 20th Century, when Modernism was spreading all over Europe as the defining artistic movement.
In the capital of Catalonia, where the paths of these men would eventually cross, the period between the Universal Exhibition of 1888 and general Franco’s authoritarian regime in 1939 was incredibly productive. Parks and buildings started to blossom everywhere, making room for new artistic expressions, influenced by the need to break rules and innovate.
With their passage, the men who became legends inevitably left a piece of themselves in the city. From Las Ramblas to the noblest buildings, the heritage is massive and reveals itself to eyes of the curious ones on the streets, parks, museums and squares.
First we should take the most visible path of all. To many people who travel to Barcelona, this city is a synonym of Antoni Gaudí, the extraordinary architect who paved the way for the bursting of Catalan Art Nouveau’s facades.
Mostly influenced by religion and the shapes of nature, many of his buildings are overflowing with birds, flowers and elements filled with musicality, different textures and colour.
In 1878, young Gaudí meets Eusebi Güell, the greatest sponsor of his work. Palau Güell, the Iron Dragon gate at Finca Güell (both built for the family of his patron) and the exotic Park Güell are some of his first masterpieces. All completed with Güell‘s support. Few years later, his artistic journey took another path.
The famous masterpieces continued, from Vicens House, La Pedrera, the fantasists Houses Batlló and Calvet. And, of course, the Sagrada Familia (Church of the Sacred Family), an unfinished work in his lifetime that is due to be completed in 2026.
There’s a long list and each building offers a different interpretation of the architect’s passion for nature and details.
If you want to know more about the man behind the art, you have Gaudí’s Museum House, inside Park Güell. It contains his work desk and a collection of furniture, specially designed by him.
Two years after the beginning of construction of the Sagrada Familia and Vicens House, Malaga saw the birth of Pablo Picasso, one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century.
Barcelona is truly the key to know the artist. La Llotja art school was the place where he spent his student years, developing the techniques that would lead to the “Blue Period”, identified by the production of blue monochromatic pieces. Inside the artist’s Museum, you’ll find a good selection of paintings that will resume his starting years.
To re-make his steps, we recommend visiting the first residence of the family Ruíz-Picasso in Pla de Palau. Legend tells that young Pablo used to climb to the top of the roof of the Porxos d’en Xifré building to appreciate the light and landscape that would become a strong influence.
A few years later, he started to frequent Els Quatre Gats cafe where he met other artists and avant-gard thinkers. In 1900, he inaugurated there his first exhibition ever.
Even after his definitive departure to Paris, Barcelona remained a huge influence in his life. A particular painting, believed to be one of the very first examples of cubism, carried special meaning: a depiction of prostitutes inside a shed in Carrer d’ Avinyó, in Barcelona’s gothic neighbourhood. Picasso used to call it “The Brothel” but it was later recognised to be the famous “Les Demoiselles d’ Avignon”.
Joan Miró and Picasso met in Paris around 1920, and the two painters kept an artistic friendship for years. Miró, the “son of the city”, was born in 1893 in Barcelona and exhibited there his first works a few years later, in 1918.
There wasn’t any other artist that gave as much to the city as the Catalan painter and sculptor. In 1986, Miró expressed his will to donate big pieces dedicated to his birthplace. Parc Joan Miró, also known as Parc de L’ Escorxador, is a big green area that keeps a 22 metres high sculpture called “Woman and Bird”. With the colourful mosaic placed in the central section of the Rambles in Pla de l’Os, these are two of the cities’ famous landmarks.
The mural specifically made to Barcelona’s airport is another masterpiece. It welcomes everyone who arrives by land, water or air. You just have to get out of the airplane to see the huge wall covered in Terminal 2, with colourful pieces of ceramic. A great indication of what awaits you: a bursting city, with art in every corner.
While the artist was still alive in 1975, he asked to open a Foundation dedicated to the arts, in order to inspire the rest of the world. The top of Montjuic’s Mountain was the chosen place to keep a massive part of Miró’s pieces.
Although he was born in Figuere — only a train ride away from Barcelona and where you’ll find a Museum in his honour — Dalí gave his first steps in the capital of Catalonia.
Ateneu Barcelona and Liceu Opera House were frequent spots that fulfilled the artist’s need for culture and creativity. At Dalmau Gallery, Dalí showed his work for the first time and Marsella bar was a mandatory break to the artists, visited by Miró and the writer Ernest Hemingway.
When it comes to facades, Gaudí’s architecture was an inspiration to his very fertile imagination. Battló House and Park Güell where only two examples of how the dreamy world could be materialised to the real life. The artist adapted this concept to his paintings and packed them with surrealistic and philosophical questions.
Just like one of his most famous paintings — “The Persistence of Memory” — the memory of Barcelona remained in other artists’ works, inspiring them to brand the city so everyone around the world could follow their steps.