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Posts from the ‘Review’ Category

Artist in Focus: Frédéric Bazille

Impressionism was not just an artistic movement. It was a way of seeing which radically changed the path of art, paving the way to practically every contemporary creative vision which followed whether it be abstract expressionism or visceral photorealism, or even works of sculpture and photography. Accordingly, as an artistic epoch, its works have become so well known that even the most unknowledgeable could probably associate Monet’s Japaenese bride or a watery vision of waterlilies with the movement. But for all the fuzzy edged Renoir portraits, and the softly lit Monet landscapes, few people ever refer to one of Impressionism’s earliest pioneers: Frédéric Bazille.

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Bazille’s Studio; 9 Rue de la Condamine, 1870

Born in Montpellier in 1841, Bazille was both a contemporary and working companion of  Monet and Renoir whom he met while studying fine art in Paris having given up his parents’ preferred discipline of medicine. Coming from a wealthy family, Bazille was more than just a friend to his budding co-artists, providing them with shared studio space and much needed income during their crucial early years of creation. It was as a trio that the zealous three began to paint en plein air, rejecting the studio-based historical compositions that were in fashion and favouring the recreation of reality, or at least an impression thereof.

However Bazille was not just an early Impressionist. In fact his works were not even included in the first renowned Impressionist exhibitions in which the most iconic artists of the movement were hung. His work was stylistically unique, with a finessed confident line and clear figurative composition which eschewed the feathery brush work of his colleagues and endowed his work with a potent but still poetic atmosphere.

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Family Reunion, 1867

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Aigues-Mortes, 1867

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View of the Village, 1868

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The Pink Dress (View of Castelnau-le-Lez, Hérault), 1864

When the opportunity to see the works of Bazille enmassed arose this winter in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, I rushed to the show as quickly as I could get through the enormous queues outside. There, I cherished an encounter with the majority of Bazille’s most famous works, such as his captivating Family Reunion, and his highly homo erotic works, Fisherman with a Net, and Summer Scene. For capturing the male was another way in which Bazille differed from his contemporaries. For unlike the womaniser Renoir and the almost married Monet, Bazille was more of a loaner, said to be drawn to his own sex, and in these beautiful languid portrayals of the male, you can feel both a passionate admiration for the masculine form, and what must have been his frustration at not being able to openly explore it otherwise than in paint.

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Scène d’été, 1869

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Fisherman with a Net, 1868

Sadly for us, the show at the d’Orsay was a short one, for the oeuvre of Bazille was cut tragically short by his early death at the age of only 28 while fighting during the Franco-Prussian war. Thus a needless bullet ended what might have been one of the most prolific careers of the Impressionist age, and who should always be remembered as one of its most promising young stars.

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Artist in Focus: Grant Wood

Two weeks over the Christmas period in London and Paris provided the perfect opportunity to play catch-up on some of the incredible exhibitions which have been popping up in both cities, and for which I have been pining from afar. Whether it be Picasso Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London or Bazille at the d’Orsay in Paris, I have been literally itching to get inside the galleries to discover artists both familiar and new, set within the context of a new curatorial manifestation. Out of these exhibitions, I walked away struck by certain paintings and by certain artists whose work I am keen to share on The Daily Norm. For life is a continuing learning curb, and even behind the most famous work lies an entire portfolio of unknown paintings coming from a relatively un-talked of artist.

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American Gothic, Grant Wood (1930)

This is the case with Grant Wood, who is far more famous for his emblematic 1930 painting, American Gothic, than he is for fame in his own name. Usually housed in the Art Institute of Chicago, which recognised the piece for its iconic depiction of life in the rural American midwest in the pre-Depression age and bought the work, American Gothic is one of the most iconic paintings of the 20th Century, and is currently making its first European visit. For me, it was clearly the highlight of the exhibition currently running at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, American Painting in the 1930s (although I gather that the work, and the show built around it, will soon make its way to London’s Royal Academy too).

Highlights of Grant Wood’s oeuvre

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Young Corn (1931)

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Parson Weem’s Fable (1939)

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Spring in the Country (1941)

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The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover (1931)

However, having swooned over my first face-to-face encounter with this iconic work and taken note of the name of its artist, what I wasn’t expecting was to find how prolific an artist lay behind the painting. For as we made our way around the exhibition, exploring its historically captivating theme of art before, during and immediately after the great American Depression, the name Grant Wood kept on popping up under all of the paintings to which I was instantaneously attracted upon entering each exhibition space.

Born in 1891 and painting until his death in the 40s, Wood’s early work shows the clear influence of impressionism and post-impressionism with more hesitant lines and a play on depicting realistic light. However, by the time he reached the 1930s, the artist had fallen upon a truly unique form of naive reality, depicting in beautifully bold colours and sharp, well rounded lines and figurative forms, the rolling rural landscape around his Cedar Rapids home.

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Death on the Ridge Road (1935)

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Fall Plowing (1931)

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The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931)

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Stone City Iowa (1930)

Without a doubt, my favourites of his works are his exquisite landscapes, painted so idyllically as to be charged with a kind of fantasy-land quality, albeit recognising in their carefully executed details the depiction of agriculture and industry. Reducing trees into rounded, wooly forms, and using idealised shadow to round-off the land like the  voluptuous flesh of a Rubens nude, these landscapes are pure works of genius, and why the artist Grant Wood will now remain lodged in my artist consciousness for all time.

2016: My Year in Photos

It’s beyond crazy that a year has passed since I last compiled a photographic review of my photos. I remember exactly where I was sitting when I last did it, the rush I felt at writing the post before jetting off the following day to Venice…I practically remember what I was drinking (gingerbread green tea surely… it comes highly recommended). Short of remembering the clothes I was wearing, it seems so ridiculously proximate in time that I feel almost in a state of dreamlike disorientation as I engage on the annual tradition of writing this post. Even filing through my many thousand of photos does not convince me that enough time can have passed for a year to be up already. And there was I thinking that leap year 2016 had one more day to its number.

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And yet my calendar tells me that we are once again here again, coming to the end of another year, and one which for me has been very, very busy but full of light, sunshine and happiness. All of these things have mainly been the result of my location which, for another full year, was based on the paradise island of Mallorca in the Mediterranean sea, a backdrop which provided a daily life rich in sensual pleasures, and from which other fantastic locations such as Barcelona and Granada were only a short plane’s hop away.

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Yet asides from the visual riches so inherent in Spain, 2016 was a year which provided us with the opportunity to explore old favourites such as the enduringly attractive city of Rome, and also to embrace the new: the island of Menorca, Split in Croatia and Vienna in Austria were just three of those exciting new destinations which we were lucky enough to discover in 2016. It was also a year of discovery for my young family too…One of my highlights has to be the visit to Mallorca of my sister and young nephews, and experiencing their joy as they dipped into the warm sea for the first time.

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When I look back over 2016, I remember a year of stark contrasts. Because for all of the beautiful experiences which manifest in these photos shared today, I cannot deny a feeling of trepidation as I leave a year which presented so many new dangers. As if Brexit in June was not bad enough, the Trump election in the US just 5 months later was like rubbing salt into a still unhealed wound. And in my personal sphere, the news that I will soon be leaving to Mallorca to take up life again in London likewise will come with its share of challenges. Only time will tell how this cocktail of external and personal factors will play out, and the experiences which will result. However I am confident that in 12 months time, another year will have quickly passed. I look forward to sharing with you the photographic gallery which will surely result.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 20136and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Cubism’s hidden depth: The Crystal in the Flame

Any artist will tell you that paintings flowing from instinct will always work better. Those forced, because of instruction or a self-imposed target, will often miss the mark. When I paint from the heart, it always works better, and the style to which I always find myself returning in those unencumbered, free-flowing moments is a form of cubism.

I have always shied away from over-categorising my work. I rarely find such labels to be helpful, as indeed can be said of pigeonholing people. But I am the first to admit that there is something decidedly cubist about my recent work, especially when I design straight from the heart. This tendency arises, I believe, from my perfectionist attitude when it comes to composition and line, since there is nothing quite like the geometric delineation of cubism to satisfy that inherent need for order within me. However, it is also a tendency which arises directly out of my adoration for the genre in general.

Cubist works have always held an enduring fascination for me. In a gallery of plenty, they are always the works which later I will proclaim to have been my favourites. And last weekend, when I was lucky enough to attend an entire exhibition of cubism at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, I realised quite how innately inspired I am by the cubist age.

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Juan Gris, Portrait of Josette, 1916

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Gino Severini, Still-life with Bottle of Marsala, 1917

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Juan Gris, La Guitarra, 1918

The museum’s fascinating new exhibition, Cubism and War: the Crystal in the Flame, sets out to explore another face of the artistic masterpieces produced during the time of the First World War. When WW1 broke out, cubism as an artistic genre, was considered to be a fully-established school, with the likes of Picasso and Braque, Diego Rivera and Juan Gris its leading proponents. Rather than break with this new innovation when the war made images of blood-soaked trenches and destroyed landscapes a reality, those same artists and their followers were determined to keep the style alive. However, whether it be as a direct response to the horrors of war or a reflection of the modern, mass-machine, emotionless reality of the age, the time of war did bring about a distinctive sub-class of cubism, and it is this period on which this exciting new exhibition focuses.

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Juan Gris, Still Life before an Open Window, Place Ravignan, 1915

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Pablo Picasso, Still-Life with Compote and Glass, 1914-15

Known as “crystal” cubism in reference to the tightening compositions, enhanced clarity and sense of order reflected in the works, this new modification of cubism has been likewise linked to a much broader ideological transformation towards conservatism in both French society and culture (the crystal movement was largely painted out of Paris). It was certainly a purification of the style, moving from a complex analytical form of cubism, in which cubism was used to decompose a particular image or person after study, to a synthetic process whereby the cubist composition was built on the basis of geometric construction without the need for prior study. The “crystal” period took synthetic cubism one step further with works inherently characterised by a strong emphasis on flat surface activity and large overlapping geometric planes controlled by the primacy of the image’s underlying geometric structure, rooted in the abstract.

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Juan Gris, Pierrot, 1919

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Juan Gris, Still Life with Newspaper, 1916

The exhibition brings together an incredible away of works from the crystal period, and such was the perfection of the works on display that the show got my little perfectionist heart all in a flutter. Moving between a kind of infatuated admiration of the works and a despair at my own failure to produce masterpieces of the kind, I left the exhibition full of inspiration and a determination to continue along my own road of crystallised composition. I have already started work on my own painting inspired by the show. But in the meantime I am happy to recommend the exhibition to you all and to share some of its masterpieces on this post (most of which are Juan Gris, by far my favourite of the lot!).

Cubism and War. The Crystal in the Flame, runs at the Picasso Museum, Barcelona, until 29 January 2017.

From Illyria to Italy, Part 2: Muzeji Ivan Meštrović

Day two of our holiday in the beautiful Adriatic city of Split on the Croatian coast, and scandalously, it started cloudy. Panic stricken at the lack of blue skies, our first question to our hotel receptionist, after choosing a hearty dish of fresh pancakes for breakfast (a recurring gym-body busting pattern I might add) was to ask what we could do in such weather. For culture vultures like ourselves, she recommended the Muzeji Ivan Meštrović, that is the museum of the renowned Croatian sculptor, a fine cultural beacon in the city where he made his name.

The sun had actually come out again by the time we walked along Split’s sunny promenade and made it to the museum set within the lush leafy suburbs of the city. But just as well, or we might have missed out on enjoying the exteriors of the museum which are every bit as stunning as the inside. Surrounding the impressive facade of the perfectly imposing museum building (I tried to find out the history of the building… to me it looks like a fine palace from the Communist era, but it’s hard to tell exactly when it was built) were gardens bounteous in dancing lavender, aromatic pine trees, and a ground scattered with a bed of pine needles, and the best surprise of all, baby little tortoises!

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Much charmed by these garden residents, we almost forgot what we had come to see, however the various sculptures created by one of Croatia’s most renowned creatives led us up through the garden, and into the museum itself. Born in 1883 in the small village of Vrpolje, Meštrović completed his artistic training at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, where he fell under the influence of the art nouveau era, and debuted in the first Secessionist exhibition.His work quickly became popular, even with the likes of Auguste Rodin who is reported to have declared Meštrović to be the greatest phenomenon among sculptors and, with characteristic modesty, an even greater sculptor than he was. This early popularity sewed the seeds of his career success, and the sculptor was soon exhibiting internationally as well as setting up home in the city of Split.

His success in the city was not enough to guarantee his safety during the Second World War, and after a brief spell in jail in order to prevent his escape from Croatia, Meštrović eventually secured himself a visa via friends in the Vatican and in Switzerland, emigrating to the US where he was to remain for the rest of his life, unwilling to live under communism. However upon his death he remembered his country, leaving a legacy of some 400 works to Croatia, many of which today form the collection of the Meštrović museum.

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What struck us as we traversed the lofty space of this palatial museum were the viscerally real emotions the sculptor managed to capture in sculptures made of plaster and bronze. In the faces of Christ, or Mary, or in the portraits he made of friends, you are struck by an intensity of emotion, as though metal could talk, or scream, or cry. There is a sensitivity to these sculptures which is truly hyperreal even though, with their elongated heads and exaggerated features, there is a very painterly, interpretative aspect to the works.

We didn’t know the work of Meštrović before our hotel suggested we visit the museum, but as the days in Split continued we started to notice the presence of his work all around the city. And enjoying those works both in his museum, its gardens and in stunning locations in and around Split, it was not at all difficult to imagine why the city has adopted Meštrović as its favourite adopted son.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. 

Art in London (Part 3): Giacometti Pure Presence

Say Alberto Giacometti to most art enthusiasts, and for the majority, an image of his long, spindly totem-pole like human sculptures will come to mind. For it is these famous works which made Giacometti’s name, and which today reach eye-wateringly high prices at auction. But for me, the true genius of this artist was not in his sculptures at all, but in his frenetic, impulsive two-dimensional works.

I first discovered the drawings of Giacometti when I attended a short course in life drawing at the Chelsea College of Art. The teacher was trying to ally the many frustrations spreading amongst the students in the room by the changing positions of the models both during the life drawing session, and after breaks. Yet as he attempted to show us through Giacometti’s work, a portrait does not have to comprise a single well-defined line, but can emerge from a series of lines and positions.

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The portraits he showed us by way of example were by Giacometti, and in drawing his sitters, he did not concern himself with the perfect line of the face or body, but instead through a series of energetic lines, he would draw a fragmented impression of the sitter, building up the lines more and more until he got to the face, where the real details were introduced. The result was a drawing which focused so intently on the face that it appeared to be emerging from the paper.

So I was filled with excitement to discover that this autumn, the National Portrait Gallery in London are exhibiting a retrospective focusing on Giacometti’s many portraits. And while the show does this through some of the sculptures which made him famous, it is Giacometti’s two dimensional works on paper and on canvas which turned out to be as thrilling as I had anticipated.

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Like drawings and paintings created from wire, or built up through a passionate and continued interaction between pencil (or paintbrush) and paper, Giacometti’s portraits are utterly unique, and, after what appears to be a process of interrogation and exploration of the flesh, result in vivid portraiture full of emotional depth. But while the Goya exhibition at the National Gallery next door tended to bring to life the story of each of Goya’s sitters, in Giacometti’s works, I could sense the passion and intention of the artist himself.

Giacometti: Pure Presence runs at The National Portrait Gallery until 10 January 2016.

Art in London (Part 2): The Goya Portraits

When I first saw the grand lofty gallery in the Prado filled with Goya’s portraits, and indeed upon subsequent visits, I admit that I was not overly won over. It was not so much that the portraits were bad, just that by comparison with the dramatic visions of the 2nd and 3rd May 1808 in the adjacent room, or of the even more terrifying and enthralling Black Paintings alongside that, the portraits of Francisco de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828) always felt a little…bland. It also occurred to me that they all looked a little samey, with their piercing round black eyes sparkling like the glass eyes of teddy bears, and this led me to the perhaps premature conclusion that Goya had painted his sitters more idealistically, rather than realistically.

But the current Goya exhibition at London’s National Gallery sheds new light on this important epoch of the artist’s work, and seen within a narrative of their rich historical context, and with the ability to compare and contrast a magnificent set of some of Goya’s best, suddenly these portraits seem just as compelling as the magnificent sombre works which followed.

Carlos IV of Spain and His Family, 1800

Carlos IV of Spain and His Family, 1800

Charles IV in Hunting Dress, 1799

Charles IV in Hunting Dress, 1799

Maria Luisa wearing a Mantilla, 1799

Maria Luisa wearing a Mantilla, 1799

The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788

The Duke and Duchess of Osuna and their Children, 1788

The portraits of Goya cannot be deemed the most technically adept in the world. I could not help but notice that on this head or that, the shading was wrong, or the head-piece look flattened and oddly two-dimensional. And I was interested to read that Goya’s was mostly self-trained, a fact which was to me, a likewise self-taught painter, obvious in the gradual improvement of his portraits from early attempts through to his magnificent depictions of the family of Charles IV of Spain. However, his greatest skill was psychological insight, and this was evident in a series of portraits which seemed to penetrate the sitter through to the core. The result was a series of rooms which felt as though they were occupied by the living shadows of history, almost like the paintings in Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, whose sitter would come alive within the frame.

This all makes for a thoroughly enthralling exhibition whose sitters literally leap off the walls to introduce us to the historical periods which characterise the works; from the more informal portraits of the Spanish royals, painted with a view to pacifying the public in the aftermath of the French Revolution, to the somewhat obsequious depictions of French generals after the Napoleonic invasion of Spain. However of all the works, my favourites were of the aristocratic stars of the time, full of bold gestures and extravagant swagger, each competing with the other to afford the more exquisite portrait, and with it, the greater standing in society.

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, 1797

Portrait of the Duchess of Alba, 1797

The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, 1796

The Dowager Marchioness of Villafranca, 1796

The Marquis of Villafranca and Duke of Alba, 1795

The Marquis of Villafranca and Duke of Alba, 1795

The White Duchess (Duchess of Alba), 1795

The White Duchess (Duchess of Alba), 1795

Goya’s portraits are a window on a long past world of aristocratic dominance, and regal fancy, and of a time caught between the birth of the enlightenment and the trauma of invasion and turbulent changes of power. And while many of the sitters exhibited those same teddy-bear black eyes which had caught my intention at the Prado years before, it is the intensity behind the gaze in those eyes which left a lasting impression on me as I left this superb London show.

Goya: The Portraits is on at The National Gallery in London until 10 January 2016… so get there quick!

Art in London (Part 1): Calder’s Mobiles

London is alive with some truly exciting artist retrospectives at the moment, each of them tending to focus on a particular aspect of their creative output. In the National Gallery, the portraiture of Goya is the focus of a major show, and likewise in the National Portrait Gallery where Giacometti and his drawings are the stars. Meanwhile, over the river in Tate Modern, a retrospective of Alexander Calder focuses on the works which surely made him famous…sculptures which dance, perform and are always on the move: his mobiles. 

It’s strange to imagine a world where the mobile, that innocuous moving collection of animals and stars hanging above every respectable baby cot, did not exist. But it was Calder who actually invented this type of sculpture, long before it ever became a favourite of the child’s bedroom, and in doing so Calder showed himself to be one of the first ever proponents of performance art, something which is now such a staple of contemporary art spaces across the world.

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Triple Gong, 1948 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

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Untitled, 1963

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Gamma, 1947 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

In creating the mobile, Calder was looking for a work which moved, and evolved. At first his moving sculptures were controlled, either in the form of puppets which would perform in his own Calder Circus Shows (the likes of which were visited in Paris by some of the biggest names of the 20th century art world), or those carefully choreographed by a series of connected motors and pulleys. But the true mobile, the freely moving construction based on a series of shapes, wires and strings, was created in response to Calder’s desire to free abstraction, and for the bold shapes and colours which he had seen in the likes of Mondrian’s tightly structured geometric works to move about without constraint.

And so were born the sculptures for which Calder became synonymous, and which have cropped up in some of the most culturally enriched open public spaces in the world, including here in Palma de Mallorca, and of course that sensational mobile left by Calder himself by the poolside at the Colombe d’Or Hotel in St. Paul de Vence.

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For me, ever so fascinated by the mobiles of Calder, this was truly an exquisite show. I wandered between the mobiles entranced by the poetry in their movements; by the constant slow flow and turns of the wire arms whose many delicate branches create an ever changing and unpredictable dance. And beyond the mobiles, the secondary most beautiful vision were the shadows created on the walls, themselves moving, creating the most beautiful abstract art, albeit free and transitory as Calder would have wished.

It’s a unique opportunity to see so many of Calder’s greatest works in one place, and to understand the revolutionary journey, from canvas to moving mobiles, which prompted him to create these most oscillatory of sculptures.

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Vertical Foliage 1941(© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

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Antennae with Red and Blue Dots, 1953 (© 2015 Calder Foundation, New York / DACS, London)

Alexander Calder, Performing Sculpture is on at Tate Modern, London, until 3 April 2016.

Mallorca’s ultimate eden: The Son Viscos Bed & Breakfast

Many may smirk when the inhabitants of paradise complain, but even we locals of Mallorca know when enough is enough. And having lived now for almost two months of temperatures in excess of 35 degrees, every so often, one just has to get away from it all. Nothing extreme mind you – I’m not talking the 20 degrees drop which a visit to London may entail, but rather a drive up into the stunning Tramuntana mountains where, at night at least, the air is notably fresher than city life in Palma and sumptuously comfortable. And as this very hot weather happened to coincide with my 32nd birthday (yesterday!) it seemed like the perfect excuse to treat ourselves a little, and book a little night away in a cooler, lusher paradise.

The location we chose could not have been more perfect. Located in the footfalls of the Tramuntana in the valley which gives the magical town of Valldemossa its name, the Son Viscos Bed and Breakfast was like a home from home, but we’re talking the kind of home which only the most avid readers of interior design magazines could wish for.

Interiors of the Son Viscos

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Owned by the proprietors of the popular interior design store, Mosaic, located in cool Santa Catalina in Palma, the Son Viscos hotel is a euphoria of design harmony, with understated muted tones and natural woods offsetting perfectly amongst carefully chosen rustic antiques and ceramic items. The west-facing kitchen, which was flooded with light in the afternoon, and filled with a bounteous feast of the freshest breakfast produce in the morning, was the beating heart of a guesthouse which maintained all of the characteristics of the most welcoming of family homes.

The Son Viscos garden

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Our room, the Menta suite, offered the very best of comfort with a lavish but pared down minimalist wooden four poster bed, together with haphazardly placed original art, design arm chairs and super soft towels. Flooded with light from an ample terrace, the room boasted enviable views of the Valldemossa monastery, and benefited from all of the freshness of the lush mountains opposite.

And it was precisely that fresh air which so loving nurtured us as we settled down for our night at the Son Viscos, finally able to escape the suffocating heat which had tampered with our dreams for months. Waking enlivened and refreshed, we had yet more pleasures to discover, for opposite the Son Viscos, the hotel’s extensive grounds extended to sun dappled woods hugging the side of the valley, and included fresh water streams, ancient moorish mills and even a dainty stone bridge which had more than survived the tests of time.

The Son Viscos’ sumptuous grounds

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The Son Viscos hotel was frankly an experience in a million, for its meticulously conceived design, its perfectly bucolic location, and for the sheer welcoming comfort it offered. As I sit here now, back in hot Palma, recounting my time there I long to return. Something tells me it won’t be long.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2015 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

The Gaudi which eluded me: Palau Güell

While I am as familiar with the works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi as the next Barcelona aficionado, there is one Gaudi masterpiece which has managed to elude me in all of the years I have been visiting the city: the Palau Güell. For many years this was due to extensive renovations of the property which saw it closed to the public both partially and entirely for some 7 years. But latterly I just never seemed to be in the city when the palace was open to the public. But no longer is this unsatisfactory position the case! As soon as our Barcelona trip was booked, the first thing I did was to reserve our entrance to the Gaudi masterpiece, and within hours of our arrival in the city, we had entered its impressive lofty interior. 

The Palau Güell

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Built between 1886 and 1888 in the El Raval neighbourhood of Barcelona, the Palau Güell was in fact one of Gaudi’s earliest works, and the first major collaboration with the industrialist Eusebi Güell who was to become Gaudi’s most significant patron. Although its sombre interiors show somewhat more restraint from the man who was later to go on to design such fantastical masterpieces as the Sagrada Familia and the Casa Mila, the exterior of the house already showed the young architect pushing the boundaries of socially acceptable architecture, filling his facade with magnificently twisted wrought iron, animal forms, and his terrace with his now iconic multi-coloured tile chimneys. 

The famous terrace

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That is not to say that the interiors were boring. Far from it. Past the initial somewhat gloomy entrance which was intended to be the preserve of carriages, the upstairs rooms showed every sign of the virtuosity for which the architect would become know, with magnificently intricate woodwork, wrought iron and personalised furniture heavily influenced by the Moorish design which is so prevalent in Spain as well as the innovations of line and shape which were becoming modish in what was to be known as the modernist or art nouveau era. By far the most spectacular feature of the house is the main atrium: a dazzling space which cuts through the entire height of the house, topped with a dome into which little holes cut are like stars twinkling in space.

The impressive central atrium

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So the house which had long eluded me did its best to impress, and certainly received from me the admiration it deserved. I did however leave somewhat concerned by some of the renovation works undertaken, not least the extent to which staircases have been modernised, for example, with swish inlayed lighting which is clearly out of character with the original house, and worst of all the adaptation of the roof’s famous chimneys such that on one, a contemporary artist has shamelessly attached a tacky toy lizard as some kind of new interpretation of an otherwise perfect Gaudi icon. Why this was allowed I will never know. As they say: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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