Barcelona is more than just a city and almost no part of it can be described as average. It has a stunning location on the Mediterranean Sea, beautiful beaches, rolling hills, famed Medieval architecture and it was the birthplace or residence of a few of the 20th century’s greatest artists. Some of these artists just spent a few years in the city, while others spent their entire lives. One thing they all had in common, though, was their love for Catalonia.
Picasso is considered by many to be among the greatest artists of the modern era. He was born in the coastal city of Malaga in southern Spain, but his family moved to Barcelona when Picasso was just 13 years old. Having already exhibited a knack for the imitation of great artists, the inspirational experience of living in Barcelona would be the push for the young painter to find his own style.
As a young man Picasso divided his time between Barcelona and Paris, the continent’s other great and art-filled city. In Paris, Picasso experimented with the cubist style and became friends with legendary figures in the art world like Gertrude Stein and Henri Matisse.
Today, visitors to Barcelona can visit the Museu Picasso in El Born to see an excellent selection of artwork spanning Picasso’s many different styles. If anything, Picasso was prolific and he created a large amount of work in a variety of styles. The museum houses an especially large collection of his early that were completed when the artist was still living in Spain. The museum is open daily and admission is a steal at €6. Even better, it’s free after 3 pm on Sundays.
Salvador Dali was born in the small Catalonian town of Figueres, 120 km north of Barcelona. He was a pioneer of surrealist art and was widely known for his portrayals of melting clocks. During his lifetime, which spanned almost the entire 20th century, he became one of the world’s most famous artists. His wild persona was well documented, as was his fantastical mustache.
Barcelona is not often mentioned in the context of Dali, but his frequent trips to the city as a youth are said to have inspired his interest in art. It’s certainly not hard to imagine how Barcelona could have that effect on a person. As a young man Dali moved to Paris, where he got to know other expat Spanish artists like Picasso and Miró.
Salvador Dali’s works can be seen in Barcelona at the Permanent Dali Exhibition in El Gotic. This museum is quite small, but it does have a good variety of his work. True fans should make the trek up to Figueres to visit its Museum Dali. This is the world’s principal Dali museum and it was designed in a truly surrealist style by Dali himself. It houses the world’s largest collection of his works and it is worth visiting, even if just for its absurdity.
One of the most celebrated artists of the 20th century, Joan Miró, like Salvador Dali, was known for his surrealist style. In this style the painter tries to paint with his subconscious and the result is often a colorful blend of shapes and icons that take upon an almost magical significance.
Miró was born in Barcelona’s El Gotic neighborhood and many of his early paintings are representative of Catalonian life. Miró would later move to Paris where he would become friends with painters Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and sell his art to famous patrons like Ernest Hemingway. Miró was fiercely proud of his Catalonian heritage and his outspoken political nature meant that he had to spend a portion of his life in exile while Spain was under the fascist rule of Generalissimo Franco.
In Barcelona the Joan Miró Foundation is the place to see the painter’s masterpieces. It houses over 14,000 pieces of art and it is the largest Miró collection in the world. Admission is €10 and the museum is located in Montjuic Park. More of Miró’s works can be found at the Contemporary Art Museum in El Raval, alongside the works of other Spanish and Catalonian contemporary artists.
[Also see "Barcelona: The City of “God’s Architect"]
Antoni Gaudi was a Catalonian architect who lived in Barcelona during the latter half of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century. His modernist works can be found throughout Barcelona, from his earliest constructions of lampposts in Placa Reial to the never-completed Sagrada Familia. His influence upon Barcelona was so great that he single-handedly transformed the city into a living and breathing masterpiece. Common elements in his designs include mosaics, ceramics, catenary curves and wild colors.
Gaudi’s most famous construction is the Sagrada Familia, a stunning cathedral with spires 560 ft high. This church is Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece and from afar, it literally dominates the Barcelona skyline. Up close its beauty and design are mind-blowing. It has been a work in progress since construction first began in 1883, and it seems that the design is just too complex for it to ever be truly finished.
His next greatest design in Barcelona is Parc Guell. Built from 1900-1914, Parc Guell is a park like no other. Its design is detailed and meaningful from the faux gingerbread houses at its entrance, down to the smallest piece of mosaic tile. Its location, in the hills above Gracia, is equally stunning and the views from the park are excellent. While the park can get pretty crowded on nice days, that doesn’t stop tourists and locals alike from enjoying its unique beauty.
Gaudi’s other well-known works in Barcelona are his two houses, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. Both of them are located on Passeig de Gracia and both were commissioned in the early 20th century as private residences for wealthy businessmen. However, these houses are far from your average private residences. Gaudi had few constraints and he created some of the most beautiful and bizarre homes ever built.
Casa Batlló is slightly more popular with visitors. Built in 1877, it has a wild exterior covered in mosaic tile and its interior is very colorful, with different rooms having completely unique color themes.
La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà, was completed in 1912 and is located only a few blocks from Casa Batlló. While its design isn’t quite as wild as Casa Batlló’s, it’s still a very unique building. It has a really impressive inner courtyard, but what really makes La Pedrera special is its roof. Its wondrous roof seems as if it’s straight out of a fantasy, with varying floor-levels and strange columns and the views are excellent, particularly of the nearby Sagrada Familia.