French Influence Upon Catalan Modernists

Symbolism first developed in poetry, where it spawned free verse. Forefathers included the poets Baudelaire, Verlaine, and Rimbaud; practitioners included Laforgue, Moreas, and Regnier. The Swiss artist Arnold Becklin is perhaps the most well-known Symbolist painter; his pictures are like allegories without keys, drenched in melancholy and mystery. Other artists working in this vein include Odilon Redon and Gustave Moreau. The Surrealists drew heavily on the Symbolists later on.

Catalan Artists

Catalan masters played a major role in the development of 20th Century modern art in many fields. For example, modernism expressed by Gaudi, Rusinol, Gimeno, Camarasa, Picasso, Nonell or Miro epitomized the efforts of the Catalan people. Still, most of them expressed their talents outside Spain in Paris where many of them lived and worked before going home to continue their expression. Like anyone honing a craft, they needed a foundation of knowledge for their art and Paris offered this to them.

The artists at the forefront of the new Catalan painting were Ramon Casas (1866-1932) and Santiago Rusiol (1861-1931). The two artists Paris work, such as Plein air (c. 1890-1), by Casas, and Laboratory in La Galette (c. 1890-1), by Rusiol, is naturalistic in character, dispensing with the subject matter in order to capture a fleeting instant, almost photographic, with a composition in which the elements seem to burst out over the edges of the canvas. This monochromatic treatment of color artists put them at the forefront of expression. It is easy to see other artists like Matisse who bold use of color seems rebellious at the time influenced the painters. Another Catalan artist of the time was an architect. The Modernista Movement was not just about painting or sculptures, but also infiltrated everyday life in form and function. Buildings and their insides/outsides also became mediums of expression for artists. The building for which Gaudi has won most fame is the magnificent church of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona. Since its inception in 1882, it became Gaudis lifelong project. Still under construction, it follows the traditional cruciform plan, but its appearance is quiet unlike any other church. While the chevet follows a neo-Gothic style, the transept is a complete departure from convention, with enormous cone shaped spires and gables resembling stalactites. The Art Nouveau or Modernista movement, which Gaudi was part of is inextricably linked with the political and cultural revival of Catalonia at the end of the nineteenth century. The style embodied a striving to break away from traditional design, but at the same time rejecting the prevailing industrialization. Luis Domenech y Montaner, a friend of Gaudi designed the Hospital of San Pablo and the Concert Hall in Barcelona. The same architect also designed the Gran Hotel in Palma de Mallorca in 1903, which brought about a wave of Modernista style buildings in Mallorca, especially in Palma and Soller. This period also saw the development of the splendid Barcelona expansion of suburbs, which were built along a grid like pattern outside of Barcelona. Modernista buildings can be found all over Catalonia. Also in Valencia the railway station and the Central Market were built in Modernista style.

Another form of Nouveau Art that was all the rage at the time came in the form of early graphic art and advertisement in the form of posters. The earliest posters that resemble what we would today call posters were created in the late 1890s and early twentieth century, in an artistic period that has been termed the “Belle epoque” and some of the major artists of that period include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Jules Cheret. These posters many advertised other art forms like film, music and dance in the neighborhoods of Paris and later Barcelona. These posters were also used as signposts for the Paris Metro subway system and are still installed throughout the city today. Picasso also used this medium on a smaller scale for the cafe Els Quatre Gats when he produced a menu for them. These posters were quickly becoming a means of communication all over Europe and America due to their popularity but also their use of color and style.

In Barcelona a young Picasso moved among a circle of Catalan artists and writers whose eyes were turned toward Paris. These were his friends at the cafe Els Quatre Gats (the Four Cats, styled after the Chat Noir in Paris), where Picasso had his first Barcelona exhibition in February 1900, and they were the subjects of more than 50 portraits (in mixed media) in the show. In addition, there was a dark, moody modernist painting, Last Moments (later painted over), showing the visit of a priest to the bedside of a dying woman, a work that was accepted for the Spanish section of the Exposition Universalle in Paris in that year. Eager to see his own work in place and to experience Paris firsthand, Picasso set off in the company of his studio-mate Carles Casagemas (Portrait of Carles Casagemas, 1899) to conquer, if not Paris, at least a corner of Montmartre.

French Influence

People began speaking of Art Nouveau in the 1890s. Architects, who were now as likely to be using iron and glass as stone, felt that different building materials called for a new style of ornament; they were ready to draw on sources besides the Greek and Roman, which had been very nearly the only source of architectural inspiration since the Renaissance. Asian art was held up as a new model for European art. However, Art Nouveau did not just copy Asian examples, but transformed them into something new. The influence of the sweeping arabesques of Asian decoration encouraged architects to try to transpose these curves into iron. From Japanese art in particular, Europeans saw that design could be harmonious without being symmetrical. The super-curvaceous, asymmetrical designs of the Belgian architect Victor Horta (1861-1947) were wildly popular in the 1890s. The influence of Asian art was even more profound among painters and printmakers. Instead of aiming to present a convincing representation of reality, artists tried to paint pleasing patterns. “Decorative” was a word of high praise. Pictorial space was flattened and contrast sharpened, so that outlines and shapes took on a life of their own. The work of Aubrey Beardsley, inspired by Japanese prints, was well loved.

So in this respect, the French influence on Catalan art was not French but a mixture of influences artists were being exposed to in Paris on a multicultural level. It seemed that Paris was becoming a healthy melting pot for expression.

French Painters, Subject Matter and Technique

Many French painters like Gustave Moreau, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet and Henri Matisse hailed from France and influenced their counterparts from other areas of Europe. However, at the there was an abundance of artists who were not French but yet carried on the Modernist movement and influenced others in their time there. It is safe to say that the like of Picasso, Kandinsky, Dali (later) and Klimt were also at the forefront of subject matter and technique. These artists also had just as much to offer their creative society in the way of influence, innovation and progression of expression. These artists were lavish with their use of color just like their French counterparts and they also knew how to exaggerate their subjects to give the viewer a different perspective. At the time these abstracts views may have been shocking to the public but it elevated the movement in a direction away from realism toward the surreal. I believe this expression had nothing to do with being in Paris but everything to do with the world seeming to be unstable and uncertain. The artists of this time were just expressing their feelings toward the world. Of course, Paris was unique in that it offered artists an environment to learn and thrive unlike any other city.

French Movements such as Belle epoque and Exposition Universalle

Paris society was also at the forefront of change and thrived on new ideas possibly because of its artistic community being more flexible and open-minded to different experiences. The city offered artists the social means of expression and became the central location of these experiences. The Belle Epoque movement of advertisement as discussed above became very popular and commonplace. It reflected the sensual allure of the city and represented the romantic to the public eye. This element of art in the community affected peoples ability to make social decisions toward entertainment, dating and artistic expression. The allure these posters presented symbolized a new freedom for people. Their behavior adjusted as the influence became more apparent. This is how Paris became known as the city for love.

Another social event put into place as a result of artistic influence was the Exposition Universalle. This was an event much like the Worlds Fair where artists, inventors and innovators would gather and present their new ideas and works every eleven years. This.