Where can we find Catalan art? Certainly, to see Catalan art condensed, the best place you can go, the best place anyone can go is to the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Here you can see all the Catalan art from the Romanesque to the Gothic, passing through Renaissance, Baroque, the art of the 18th century, the 19th century, and so on, and so forth. And you can see very clearly the moments in which Catalan art was powerful and displayed its greatest significance. Surely at this point we must stop to talk about the Romanesque.
It is not just the quality of Catalan Romanesque art that is exceptional but the fact that the National Art Museum of Catalonia has the most complete set of Romanesque mural paintings in Europe, and this is so because the body, the institution that looked after the Museum of Barcelona at the beginning of the 20th century decided that to stop all the paintings that were being snatched from the churches in the Pyrenees, which is where they were housed, these paintings that were ripped out and ended up in North American museums, to stop this pillaging, what was decided was to protect the Catalan heritage, the Romanesque paintings, to take them from their support, take them down from the walls of the churches and to move them into this museum.
Also in this museum you can see magnificent examples of Gothic art, which is in the rooms where we are right now, Gothic art which, unlike Romanesque, was not rural art but above all was urban, which moved into the cities and cathedrals, churches, Santa Maria del Mar, etc. They were filled with great altarpieces that filled these magnificent temples and not only the temples, because also the civil power became enriched through Gothic art. Here is probably the most representative example of a painting that was destined for a civil building, Barcelona City Hall, although specifically it was the painting that was in the chapel of the city.
So, without doing the entire tour of the museum, to see Catalan art you can come to the National Art Museum of Catalonia, but you can also go through the region because Catalan art is widely scattered and dispersed. To see the Romanesque architecture, you should go to the churches in the Pyrenees; you can also go to the monastery of Ripoll or to Sant Pere de Rodes, to see Gothic art you can visit the different cathedrals in Girona, in Tarragona, although these cathedrals were begun in the Romanesque period, the cathedral of Barcelona itself, Santa Maria del Mar, as we have said, and to see modernism, for example, modernism that has a great diversity of architectural styles, it’s not only the houses of Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona but modernism that is adapted to the needs of the society an essentially industrial society where Catalonia is the region in which the industrial revolution ran deeper and so we needed factories, wine cellars markets and to build we resorted to modernism which was just enjoying its heyday at that time.
Here, in the National Art Museum of Catalonia, returning to what I was saying a moment ago, it is important to bear in mind that the museum, where it is today, was inaugurated in 1934, but its origins are not in the 20th century; the amassing of all this Catalan heritage began in the late 19th century, at the end of the Reinaxença, when this Reinaxença, just as was happening in other parts of Europe under another name, sought to recover the Catalan identity and culture, put them in their proper place and therefore there began to be part of local institutions of Barcelona because at that time in the late nineteenth century there was no self-governance, there was no autonomous Catalan government and the local institutions of Barcelona made a major effort to begin to preserve all these paintings, all this Catalan heritage and house them in a physical space and give some museographical serialization.
This, at the beginning of the 20th century, accelerated spectacularly with the Commonwealth, when every financial effort was made to complete the discourse of Catalan art and we must also take into account in this evolution, in this public art collectionism, that private art collectionism also came into play to somewhat balance up the lack of resources available to the public institutions, and without this collectionism, without such effort, this museum with its wealth would not exist. And, finally, I would like to mention the moment in which this building was built, because it also says a lot about how Barcelona is today.
This building was built in 1929, it was one of the key buildings of the international exhibition of 1929, an exhibition that put Barcelona on the world map for the second time. Which was the first? The universal exhibition of 1888, it had put Barcelona on the map but in addition it was an exhibition that was used to change the physical appearance of the city, by rearranging a significant part of the city, a redevelopment that would continue in 1929 when this second fair took place, rearranging the entire area of Montjuic and ended in 1992 with the Olympic Games, a huge celebration that has little to do with art but does indirectly because in town planning terms, the exhibition of 1992 concluded most successfully all this urban development of Barcelona that had begun at the end of the 19th century that continued in 1929 and ended with 1992 and gives Barcelona this characteristic “skyline” that is so representative of our city.