GAUDÍ AND ART NOUVEAU IN CATALONIA / Architecture / Gaudí / Extended biography

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ANTONI GAUDÍ I CORNET  (1852-1926)

Gaudí's extended biography

 [Català] [Castellano]
 GAUDÍ - The man - Biographic synthesis
Extended biography:   Birth and childhood    Gaudí's Ancestry    Education and early professional live    Architectural studies come to an end    Professional beginnings    Gaudí's private life    A time of plenty    Final years 
Chronology    Influences    Gaudí's Political and Patriotic Sentiment    Gaudí's friends    Gaudí's collaborators
 The work Architectonic work:   In  Catalonia   Out of Catalonia
Characterístic styles:   Early period    Mudèjar-Moorish    Evolving Gothic    Expressionist Naturalism    Organic Synthesis
Technical aspects:   Gaudí's architectural technologie Geometrie and mechanics
Decorative aspects:   Ceramics    Furniture    Iron and other metals    Stained glasses
 Sources and other information Links    Bibliography    Bookshop on Gaudí    Other Catalan Art Nouveau architects 
   

 Gaudí portrait at the age of 30 years.  Gaudí in a procession.

Extended biography
(See also Biographical synthesis and
Chronology):

Birth and childhood:
Antoni Gaudí is the most emblematic figure in Catalan architecture and is known all over the world.  He was born June 25, 1852 to Francesc Gaudí i Serra (1813-1906), a boilermaker from Riudoms in Baix Camp, and Antònia Cornet i Bertran (1813-1876), a boilermaker’s daughter from Reus.  They were married in Reus by vicar Joan Ixart at the priory church of Sant Pere Apòstol.  Sr. Gaudí’s work as a boilermaker would influence Gaudí later—in his spatial conception, interest in decorative elements, and ability to work with his hands.
The towns of Reus and Riudoms each lay strong claim to be Gaudí’s birthplace: we know that he was baptized in Reus on June 26, 1852 at Sant Pere Apòstol, the same church in which his parents were married, by vicar Joan Casas.  However, some authors mention one “House of the Boilermaker’s Daughter” in neighboring Riudoms as Gaudí’s birthplace.  The question is still unanswered, and we must wait for new research.  Nevertheless, both towns fiercely defend their title to Gaudí’s cradle.
Antoni Gaudí was the youngest of five children: Rosa (1844-1879), the only one to marry and to whose psychologically troubled daughter Rosa Egea i Gaudí (Gaudí’s only niece) Gaudí was devoted until her death; Maria (1845-1850); unfortunate little Francesc (1848-1850); and another unfortunate Francesc (1851-1876), who died just before he could begin his medical career.
From a very early age, Gaudí suffered from health problems that frequently did not allow him to live a normal life.  Because of them, he repeatedly had to miss class during elementary school.  However, these scholastic absences were more than compensated for by the long periods Gaudí was able to spend studying nature, animals, and plants.  It was the outdoors that formed the base for the development of Guaid’s future architectural concepts.

Gaudí's Ancestry:
There are many difficulties in determining the origin of the Gaudí family.  On the paternal side, the first references to someone named Gaudí in Riudoms are those of a Joan Gaudí, son of Antoni and Joana, who was living there around 1630.  This Joan seems to have come from a town in Occitane, most likely near Auvergne, where permutations of the Gaudí surname such as Gaudy, Guadin, and Guaudin were—and still are—relatively common.  This first Joan Gaudí to establish himself in Riudoms married Maria Escura in in 1634, with whom he had three children.  His second wife, Caterina Esquer, gave him four more children.  Joan, a son by his first wife, was this first Gaudí’s heir and founder of the architect Antoni Gaudí’s paternal line.  Joan Gaudí’s will, dated April 21, 1638, has survived and been published by the historian Joan Torres i Domènech.  It is a very lengthy and interesting document written in Catalan, but with Occitane words interspersed, reflecting Joan’s origins.
Joan Gaudí i Escura, a weaver, married Maria Oriol in 1863.  Their son, Joan Gaudí i Oriol, marred Vicenta Coll; their son Josep Gaudí i Coll married Maria Figueras.  Their son, born in 1739 and whose name is unknown, also a peasant, married the daughter of a boilermaker, Francesca Salvany i Serra, in 1767.  Her son Francesc Gaudí i Salvany, born in 1773, a boilermaker like his maternal grandfather, married Rosa Serra i Torroja from Reus, who was known as “The Lady Boilermaker.” This couple (Francesc and Rosa) are the parents of the Francesc Gaudí who married Antònia Cornet i Bertran—and thus the architect Gaudí’s grandparents.
Gaudí’s mother’s side came from Santa Coloma de Queralt, a town in the Conca de Barberà area, where the family had a country home.

Gaudí’s Paternal Line
Joan Gaudí m. Maria Escura (1635)
Joan Gaudí i Escura (weaver) m. Maria Oriol (1663)
Josep Gaudí i Oriol (peasant) m. Vicenta Coll (1700)
Josep Gaudí i Coll (peasant, 1708-1778) m. Maria Figueras (marriage date unknown) (great greatgrandparents of architect Gaudí)
Francesc Gaudí i Figueras (peasant, 1739-1780) m. Francesca Salvany i Serra (1752-1790 or 1811) (1767) (greatgrandparents of architect Gaudí)
Francesc Gaudí i Salvany (boilermaker, 1773-1828) m. Rosa Serra i Torroja (1786-1751) (marriage date unknown) (paternal grandparents of architect Gaudí)
Francesc Gaudí i Serra (boilermaker, 1813-1906) m. Antònia Cornet i Bertran (1813-1876) (marriage date unknown) (parents of architect Gaudí)
Gaudí’s Maternal Line
Jaume Joan Cornet (peasant) m. Antònia Llombart (maternal great greatgrandparents of architect Gaudí)
Carles Cornet i Llombart (coppersmith) m. Maria Sans i Fernandes (maternal greatgrandparents of architect Gaudí)
Antònia Cornet i Bertran (1813-1876) m. Francesc Gaudí i Serra (1813-1906) (parents of architect Gaudí)

 

Education and Early Professional Life:
Gaudí had his first contact with school in 1860, at the age of seven, at the kindergarten on Monterols de Reus Street run by Francesc Berenguer, father of one of Gaudí’s future collaborators, architect Francesc Berenguer (1866-1914).
His secondary education began in 1863, when Gaudí was eleven, at the Escoles Pies of Reus, located in the old convent of Sant Francesc.  His report cards, still preserved, show him to have been an average student who performed better over time.  His health also improved enough to allow him to go on school field trips.  Gaudí also became involved in extracurricular activities, such as being illustrator of the school’s weekly newspaper (The Harlequin), and delving into set design for the school theatre.  Two friends he met via these pursuits—Eduard Toda and Josep Ribera—would later collaborate with Gaudí on the reconstruction of the Monastery of Poblet.
In 1868, Gaudí moved to Barcelona with his brother Francesc to study at the Intermediate Teaching Institute.  Later, once he had passed that stage of education to enroll in the Provincial School of Architecture, Gaudí had to pass three subject tests, in addition to three more tests given by the Faculty of Sciences.  Having passed all of these exams, he was finally able to enroll at the Provincial School of Architecture in 1873 and begin the six-course program: one entry-level course, a second preparatory course, and four further courses.

Meanwhile, Gaudí’s whole family had relocated to Barcelona.  With Eduard Toda and Josep Ribera, he also had begun the project of restoring the Monastery of Poblet, mentioned above—a project that would culminate some years later and which revealed the architectural leanings of young Gaudí.  In that same year in which he began his architecture studies, 1873, he began collaborating with Francesc de Paula Villar i Lozano—the first architect of the Sagrada Família—and Martorell i Sala, who would later be instrumental due to his appointment as architectural director of the Sagrada Família. 

To pay his tuition, Gaudí worked with Josep Fontseré on the Parc de la Ciutadella (especially the monumental fountain), the Mercat del Born, and other projects.  He also worked for Francesc de Paula Villar on the small altar chapel and apse of the Església de la Mare de Deu of Montserrat (1886-87), and for Joan Martorell, whom he helped construct the Salesian Convent and the Jesuit church on Casp Street in Barcelona (1882-89).

For the next few years, Gaudí simultaneously continued his studies and supplemented them with other activities, such as competing for the contract to design a “pantheon of music” for Anselm Clavé, director of the Orfeo Català—but Gaudí and many others had to stand aside for the winning design of
Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca (fathers of the Palau de la Música Catalana).  In 1875, he completed the water tower for the reservoir for the Parc de la Ciutadella.  On July 7, 1874, Gaudí began service in the Spanish infantry.  He was subsequently transferred into the Military Administration Department in December 1876, where he remained until the end of his service in 1877.  After the Carlist War ended, Gaudí was declared Benemèrit de la Pàtria (distinguished veteran), even though he never saw combat.  The army records reveal many curious facts about the enlisted Gaudí, such as that he was described as a draftsman, that his file did not mention whether he was born in Reus or Riudoms, and that he had to pay 37.25 pesetas for his own uniform.
The year 1876 proved to be a tragic one for Gaudí, as both his mother and his brother Francesc passed away.  Their deaths spawned a severe religious crisis for Gaudí, but he continued his work, now as a machine draftsman for the firm of Padrós i Borràs.  He also completed various school projects.  The following year, in 1877, Gaudí submitted an industrial design for a competition held by the Atheneum of Barcelona’s School of Applied Arts, but his design did not win.

Throughout his time at university, Gaudí supplemented his architecture studies with classes in history, philosophy, economics, and aesthetics, as he was interested in developing a global vision of the world that naturally would powerfully influence his architectural conceptions, to which Gaudí would apply not only his aesthetic, but also his political and social, vision.

Architectural Studies Come to an End: 
The year 1878 was crucial for Gaudí, since it was then that he took his final graduation exam (January 4), and then that he was officially bestowed with the title of architect (March 15).  The Director of the Superior Technical School of Architecture had recommended Gaudí and three other students to the Rector of the University for the Titile of Architect on Feburary 11, 1878.  That same year, Gaudí met Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi—Count Güell—for whom he would build a very important part of his commissions.  (See
Gaudi's Friends.)
During this time, Gaudí lived in various flats in Barcelona with his father and his mentally unstable niece, Rossita Egea Gaudí, whom he looked after upon his sister Rosa’s death in 1879.  Gaudí completed several projects having nothing to do with architecture, but rather with decorative arts and furniture, two arts to which he devoted himself with great attention throughout his life.  Some of these projects were:

  • His own work desk/drafting table.

  • Furnishings for the pantheon-chapel of the first Marquès de Comillas.

  • Streetlamps commissioned by the mayor of Barcelona for the Plaça Reial

  • A display case case of wrought iron, glass, and wood commissioned by glovemaking entrepreneur Esteve Comella in which to display his wares at the World’s Fair in Paris

  • A theatre in Sant Gervasi

  • A store for the Workers’ Cooperative of Mataró

  • A florist’s kiosk; and

  • A diary begun that summer about architecture, entitled The Reus Manuscripts

Professional Beginnings
Gaudí’s professional life unfolded in Barcelona, where he conceived the most fundamental part of his works.  The social situation in which he lived—an era of strong economic and urbanistic development in Barcelona, the patronage of a powerful middle class desirous of bringing itself into line with the dominant European movements, all coinciding with the Catalan Renaixença—served as a “cultural broth” for Gaudí’s unbounded fantasy and imagination.
Naturally, his professional activities developed in the most prestigious architectural studios of the day. The studio of Francesc Villar i Lozano was one of the most prominent, as he was the architect of the Bishopric of Barcelona and first architect of the
Sagrada FamíliaGaudí collaborated with Villar on the small altar Chapel of the Virgin at the Monastery of Montserrat.
Gaudí’s collaboration with other prestigious professionals of the time has already been commented upon; these connections, among them Martorell i Sala and Josep Fontseré, allowed him to perfect his knowledge of architectonic techniques.

Gaudí's Private Life:
Very little information exists about Gaudí’s personal life, and even less about his romantic life.  We do know, however, a few details about his platonic relationship with Pepeta Moreu, a svelte redhead he met in Mataró while they were both trying to finishing the Workers’ Cooperative project.  Their dalliance was apparently less than intense, and Moreu finally left him to marry a rich industrialist, Josep Caballol, after whose death she remarried, this time to Josep Vidal i Gomis, a well-known cinema entrepreneur in Barcelona.  One biographer, Joan Bergós, talks in his book Antoni Gaudí, Architectural Genius: Life and Works (1972) of three frustrated relationships, but the truth is that no details have survived on the other two women (besides Moreu)—not even their names. 
Most of Gaudí’s biographers agree that Gaudí’s love life was practically non-existent, confirming the suspicions of his niece, Rossita Egea, who tells us that he never had amorous relations and never even looked at women.  This dearth of female relationships has led some authors to suggest the architect was homosexual, but this conclusion has absolutely no basis in any historical document and therefore must be considered highly improbable.
Emotionally, then, Gaudí seems always to have been a timid and reserved soul with an almost totally non-existent love life, according to biographer J.J. Navarro Arisa. In reality, the professional world surrounding Gaudí was a completely masculine one, and not even the presence of his niece Rossita altered that arrangement.

A Time of Plenty:    
Gaudí enjoyed an architecturally full life from 1883-1917, beginning with the Vicens House in Barcelona and El Capricho, a villa in Cantabria.  Count Eusebi Güell charged him with the construction of the entrance, caretaker’s house, and stables for his country estate in Pedralbes.  Although relatively small in scope, this project was of notable importance for the very revolutionary architectonic criteria Gaudí would develop in his future works and for the Catalan symbols he included from Jacint Verdaguer’s epic nationalistic poem L’Atlàntida (Atlantis)—such as the garden of the Hesperides.  The wrought iron dragon at the entrance between the main two groups of buildings has become one of the symbols of the city of Barcelona.
Besides his intensive study of architecture, Gaudí was very intrigued by aspects of Catalan national history.  To that end, he was heavily involved in the city’s cultural sector, and it was during this period that he traveled and worked with other Catalan artists who shared his uncertainties about Catalunya’s cultural future.  Two of his excursions merit particular mention: his trip to the Monastery of Poblet and his meeting with Catalan nationalists on the other side of the Pyrenees in Elna (Roussillon), accompanied by Verdaguer, Marià Aguiló, Àngel Guimerà, Masriera, and others.
The level of activity of Gaudí’s architectural studio began to intensify, with a team of professionals directed by the devoted Francesc Berenguer.  In 1885, Gaudí completed the first stage of the floor plan of the Sagrada Família.
The period of extraordinary urban expansion of Barcelona occurring during the last years of the nineteenth century was also intense for Gaudí, who in 1884 received a commission from Count Güell to build his private residence, the
Palau Güell, on Carrer Nou de la Rambla (now known as Carrer Conde de Asalto).  This palace, finished in 1889, revealed that Gaudí had already concretized the basic characteristics of his civic structures early on—internal coherence; light, airy, but at the same time austere, even disquieting, spaces—according to Gaudí biographer Navarro Arisa.  The Palau played a very important role at the Barcelona World’s Fair of 1888, for the ceremonies observed there gave some idea of the prestige of Count Güell.  Gaudí achieved this feat in a relatively small space: a lot only 22m x 18m.  The interior seems infinitely larger than possible behind such a small, sober exterior, a testimony to Gaudí’s brilliant talent for creating exceptionally original and functional spaces.
In 1887, Gaudí accepted a commission from Bishop Joan Baptista Grau i Villespinós to build the
Episcopal Palace of Astorga, which would prove very difficult for Gaudí—especially since the bishop died, and the project ended up aborted.  The palace was not completed until much later, under the direction of different architects.  Amid all this frenetic activity, Gaudí took over the commission for the already-begun Col·legi de Santa Teresa in 1889.  With this project, like the Sagrada Família, Gaudí had to continue with an advanced structure—the walls were already two meters high.  The rectangular 58m x 18m building has a surprising simplicity hinting at the mysticism of the founder of the order of Saint Teresa.  Perhaps the most unique architectural contribution to this structure is the parabolic arch, repeated with notably brilliant effect.
In December 1891, Gaudí created the blueprints for the
Botines House in León.  The following year, he began constructing the Nativity façade of the Sagrada Familia , and only a year later drafted plans for the church at the Colònia Güell.
In 1895, Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudí to being work on the
wine cellar in Garraf (now known as the Celler Güell), which was finished in 1901.  The hand of Francesc Berenguer is so visible in this structure that some authors consider him, rather than Gaudí, as its architect. 
In the decisive year of 1898, Gaudí began three very important works: the
Calvet House (finished in 1900), the Park Güell (whoe components would take until 1914 to complete, since they were interrupted by financial difficulties during these years), and the Figueras House, also known as Bellesguard (finished in 1909).
Between 1901 and 1903, Gaudí completed some minor works, such as the fence for the
Finca Miralles, and the Catllaràs Villa, and took his first steps to go study the interior remodeling underway at the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca, of which he was put in charge by Bishop Campins and which after ten years were still left uncompleted. 
The following years were crucial, since Gaudí undertook some of his most essential works: the remodeling of
Batlló House, the Mila House - La Pedrera, and the crypt of the Colònia Güell.
On October 23, 1906, Gaudí’s father, Francesc Gaudí i Serra, passed away at the ageof 93 in the Casa Gaudí in the
Gaudí House in the Park Güell, in which he had lived with Gaudí since the previous year.  Casa Batlló received a prize from the Barcelona City Council as one of the best constructions of the year.  In 1917, he designed the Passion façade of the Sagrada Família.

Final years:

During his final years, Gaudí concentrated on building the Sagrada Família.  As a consequence of the progressive evolution of his religious faith, he undertook a profound analysis of all aspects of the Catholic faith, including the liturgy, the symbols of which he incorporated in minute detail into his stone temple.
Gaudí lived in the basement of the Sagrada Família for the last year of his life.  On June 7, 1926, the No. 30 streetcar struck Gaudí on the Gran Via Avenue of Barcelona, between Bailèn and Girona streets.  His simple clothes kept him from being recognized at first, and he was taken to the
Hospital de la Santa Creu, where he was later identified and where on June 10, 1926, he died surrounded by col·laborators and friends.  He was buried in the chapel of the Virgin del Carme in the crypt of the Sagrada Família. 
After the years of obscurity and criticism his work suffered at the hands of the Noucentisme movement, Gaudí is today celebrated the world over, by specialists and the general public alike. 

 

   Translation from the Catalan original text by Catherine P. Crowe

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