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Disclaimer: This article discusses an art movement that took place in Catalonia (Spain) during the 19th-20th centuries. If you're looking for the international Modernist movement, see Modernism.

Modernisme, otherwise called Catalan Modernism, or Catalan Art Nouveau, was an artistic, cultural and literary movement that took place in Catalonia, with a major presence in the city of Barcelona, from the late 1880s to the 1910s, with resurgences throughout time. During the last years of the 19th century, new art trends surged in Europe, and most of them rejected traditionalist art values, as they were seen as restrictive and outdated. Even though at first Modernisme was part of one of those European trends, Art Nouveau, it actually developed a really unique style and became one of the most original and developed Modernist movements. Modernisme was highly influential in southwestern Europe and is known for its colorful architecture, as well as for some of the most important monuments of Europe, such as the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.

Architects such as Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch and many more artists played an important place on shaping the architectural style of Modernisme. These artists started using new techniques, materials, and forms of expression that hadn't be tried yet to promote innovation and Avant-garde styles. Along with that, the idea of Gesamtkunstwerk was also promoted, which refers to adopting influence from many other art movements as means to collaborate with them and their artists. Some styles that influenced Modernisme are Art Nouveau, Symbolism and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Intellectual authors and artists who belonged to this movement also fought for the promotion of the Catalan culture and language, as well as regional autonomy, as part of the Renaixença movement in Catalonia, so the style also played a major role on the modernization of the Catalan cultural identity.


Due to the Industrial Revolution, during the 19th century, various artistic movements surged throughout Europe which rejected traditional art values. Many international architects and artists wanted to incorporate inspiration from what they thought the 20th century could be like, and they started to highly value aesthetics.

The birth of Modernisme could be interpreted as one of the many regional varieties of the Modernist art movement, which included similiar European movements like Art Nouveau, Secession Art, Jugendstil, etc. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Modernisme began to take shape as its own distinct artistic movement. Many Catalan artists and architects, such as Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, began to experiment with new forms of art that blended traditional Catalan styles with influences from the Modernist movement from Europe itself, quickly gaining its own charm. Although there were many architects and artists in this movement, Gaudí's works have become almost synonymous with it. His works can be found all over Barcelona and have become some of the most important masterpieces of Modernisme.


Despite its popularity and important influence, Modernisme declined in the early 20th century due to various factors. During the 1910s, the Catalan bourgeoisie adopted the style, and after that, Modernisme slowly became a fad. The political situation in Spain also changed. Due to the movement's intentions of incorporating traditional Catalan elements into modern art, the Spanish right wing political factions saw Modernisme as a symbol of Catalan nationalism, and therefore the style was supressed and replaced by conservative styles like Noucentisme, which had been trying to challenge its popularity and progressist ideas for years. The 13th of September of 1923, General Miguel Primo de Rivera started a coup d'etat in Spain, ultimately serving as the dictator of Spain from 1923 to 1930. Rivera's militar dictatorship targeted Catalan intellectuals due to their ideas, and even declared illegal the usage of the Catalan language in public. This obviously affected Modernisme due to its original intentions; for example, Gaudí felt a deep connection to the Catalan language, and continued speaking it regardless of the law. Many other architects of the Modernisme movement shared similiar sentiments, and this brought negative consequences to them, such as imprisonent or violence.

However, during the 1930s, Modernisme had a resurgence during the Second Spanish Republic, however it's not well known how related the 1930s Catalan art was to the Modernisme movement itself, because the artists weren't actually intending to continue any past tradition, and even then, its dissapareance quickly became unevitable because in 1936 the nation of Spain would be met with a Civil War and Francisco Franco's dictatorship in 1939, which also supressed the Catalan culture. The architecture itself lasted slightly longer than the entirity of the movement; the Spanish city of Melilla, located in Northern Africa, went through an economic boom and its newly acquired bourgeoisie spent a lot of their money in building Modernista buildings. In fact, Melilla is the second city with the largest concentration of Modernista architecture, after Barcelona.

Although not many people are aware, an example of how political instability affected this movement is the Sagrada Familia itself: this monument is famous for the fact that it hasn't been finished yet, but the reason behind it is the fact that its construction was based on donations[1]. The Spanish Civil War along with Francisco Franco's dictatorship in Spain disrupted the construction of this monument for many years, and significantly slowed it down.

Despite all the struggles this movement went through due to its common ideological values, it has been one of the most important art movements to have ever surged in Spain, and its influence is noted on several popular monuments in Catalonia, such as the Sagrada Familia, the greatest achievement of the movement, as well as one of the most well known world monumnets, or the Park Güell, known for its beautiful mosaics and colours.


Modernista Architecture generally flourished in Barcelona, and is most well known for its vibrant colours. This movement spreaded to the rest of Catalonia as well, for example the city of Reus is home to many iconic monuments too. The architects took inspiration from many other art movements that included architecture, such as Art Nouveau and the Arts and Crafts Movement. An important feature of Modernista architecture was the emphasis on functionality. The architects and artists from this movement believed that art shouldn't be limited to things like museums and exhibitions, so they wanted to make art a more public thing, by incorporating it into everyday life buildings. Another important part of the architecture was the fact it incorporated traditional Catalan motifs into Modern art, as Catalan culture was seen as "lesser" than Spanish culture at the time.

Antonio Gaudí was the most important architect of this movement. An huge amount of iconic Modernista architecture examples were created by him, and many of them have become major touristic attractions in Barcelona. His works often used complex forms and very detailed ornaments, as well as lesser used materials like ceramics, stained glass and iron. His most famous monument is the Sagrada Familia, which has become the most important symbol of Barcelona and is still under construction today.

Another notable Modernista architect is Lluís Domènech i Montaner. His most popular work is the Palau de la Música Catalana, known for its beautiful stained glasses, mosaics and sculptures present in the building.

There were multiple other architects who contributed to the movement, however Josep Puig i Cadafalch is also notable for building the Casa Amatller, a residential building in Barcelona, which was inspired by Gothic architecture. The building is well known for its delicate sculptures and patterns.


Since Modernisme was known for its use of new materials, some of those were:


Some important Modernista architects included:

  • Antonio Gaudí
  • Lluís Domènech i Montaner
  • Josep Puig i Cadafalch
  • Ramón Casas
  • Santiago Rusiñol
  • Aleix Clapés
  • Joaquim Sunyer
  • Hermenegildo Anglada Camarasa
  • Juan Brull
  • Ricard Canals
  • Javier Gosé
  • Josep Maria Sert
  • Miguel Utrillo



"Sombras", poster for Quatre Gats.

Although Modernisme mainly flourished in the architecture field, it also had important manifestations in painting, and in fact, the term "Modernisme" was first applied to paintings. Modernista paintings were pretty similiar to Art Nouveau itself, however it also had its own distinct regional differences. The paintings would mainly take inspiration from nature, Catalan folklore, symbolism, and the human figure. As seen in many artworks from this movement, flowers and natural elements and colours are very commonly used. The most well known painters of this movement are possibly Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas, who had studied Beaux-Arts in Paris and brought new philosophical ideas to the territory of Catalonia. Their paintings also had notable influence from some French Art Nouveau artists, like Edgar Degas or James Whistler. So, Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas became the most important painters of the movement. Modernista art was presented to the public in private exhibitions in art galleries in Barcelona, especially in the famous Sala Parés. Along with them, the artist Alexandre de Riquer also introduced a new style of Modernisme, which was inspired by Pre-Raphaelitism and rather incorporated symbolism and Fantastical elements such as dreamlike scenes, fairies, nymphs, etc.


The philosophy of Modernisme is mainly expressed through literature and political/cultural activism. As such, the most important part of the Catalan Modernist movement was the promotion and divulgation of Catalonia's cultural heritage and identity, which used to be subject to marginalization within the Spanish state. So, Modernist artists and intellectual writers promoted the idea that Catalonia had an unique cultural heritage that needed to be preserved and promoted, and that it shouldn't be considered an inferior or invalid culture just because Catalonia wasn't its own sovereign country. This movement was heavily influenced by the Romanticist Renaixença movement in Catalonia, which had the same objective; reviving and preserving the Catalan language and culture, however Catalan Modernists didn't agree with some political aspects of that movement, such as its religiousness or traditionalism.
The political ideas of the movement varied from artist to artist, however, they all had something in common: left-wing and progressist ideas. Some authors such as Jaume Brossa and Gabriel Alomar were Anarchists, while others artists like Miquel dels Sants Oliver were Federalists and Republican.
Because of this, Modernisme often faced competence from other artistic movements of the time which were more conservative, such as Noucentisme.



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Fictional Characters[]

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