Gaudí (56B)

Antoni Gaudí Cornet was born on 25 June 1852, at nine thirty in the morning in Baix Camp, in the province of Tarragona. Some historians have said that he was born in Reus but there is no conclusive evidence of this.

Ever since he was small he suffered from a rheumatic complaint which forced him to stay at home because of the pain it caused. This meant that he missed a lot of his classes, but it also enabled him to spend hours looking at animals, plants and stones.

His illness would stay with him throughout his life and the doctors recommended a vegetarian diet and a daily walk. Maybe that is why even when he was old he walked every day to the church of Sant Felip Neri, where he stayed for a while to pray.

As a young man he moved to Barcelona to study architecture, and he qualified in 1878 at the age of 26.

He didn’t get great grades but two of them were excellent, and curiously one was for the subject of Drawing for the invention of a new building or part of a building. The project was to design the entrance to a cemetery, but Gaudí began by drawing a funeral carriage and some sad characters to create the right atmosphere. On seeing the drawing the examiner was not sure whether he was dealing with a madman or a genius, and these descriptions were also to accompany Gaudi throughout his life. He failed the exam because he did not draw the door, but in the September he gained the highest possible grade with a fantastic drawing.  

In order to pay for his studies his father had to sell one of the family’s properties and Gaudí himself worked as assistant to some of the master builders in Barcelona.

His mother dies just after Gaudí began his architecture degree and his father and niece, Rosa Egea, became his family as he never married. 

Gaudí looked Nordic with his blond hair, deep blue eyes, fine features and rosy complexion. He was well known for being a dandy: he liked to dress well and fashionably. He never wore new shoes as they were uncomfortable. Instead he got his brother to wear them in for him for a while. He had quite a temper, and he always said that this was something he could never control in his life. 

Barcelona lived a boom period at the end of the century thanks to the textile industry. The rich liked to surround themselves with artists and intellectuals. The Catalan bourgeoisie opened doors for him to carry out his projects. However, Gaudí never renounced his contact with the less fortunate classes, from which he had come, and he was concerned for their social problems and felt close to the people. 

At a time when Catalan nationalistic sentiments were running high, people were reclaiming their rights following years of censure. Gaudí felt himself to be profoundly nationalistic. This fact also influenced his work. He wanted to know everything about ancient architecture in Catalonia. On many of his buildings symbols such as the shield with the four bars (the shield of Catalonia) and sculptures in honour of Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia, can be seen.

The 1878 Universal Exhibition in Paris meant the beginning of Gaudí’s rise to fame. There he met the man who would become one of his best friends and his sponsor, Eusebi Güell.

Gaudí was inspired by medieval books, the gothic art which had just begun to reappear, illustrations of Oriental buildings and above all the organic shapes of nature. 

He absorbed the stylistic traits of the Art Nouveau movement at the end of the 19th century and played a leading role in Catalan modernism, a movement which marked the newest tendencies in literature, theatre, architecture, fine art, decoration, furniture and other objects. 

He developed his own style, bringing together aspects of builder, sculptor, painter and architect. He went beyond the historical styles and focussed on achieving his own plasticity and sculptural forms, and these were two of the basic aspects of the Gaudi style. 

The Casa Vicens, Palau Güell, Palacio de Astorga, the Theresian convent, La Pedrera...he made a multitude of works, the great majority in Barcelona. It is strange, but Barcelona City Council only commissioned him to make the street lights in the Plaça Reial and the Plaça de Palau, and only awarded him one prise for the best building to be completed in 1900, precisely for his most extravagant project – the Casa Calvet. 

From 1912 onwards, certain events in Gaudí’s life may have been the cause of a change in attitude. For example, that was the year his niece died, in 1914 his faithful partner Francesc Berenguer Mestres died, he was involved in a legal battle with the Milà family over payment of fees for La Pedrera, work on the Colonia Güell was stopped, his friend Dr. Torres i Bages, the Archbishop of Vic died, and most important of all, his best friend and patron, Eusebi Güell died in 1918. These sad events affected him greatly and are almost certainly related to him shutting himself away in this greatest work, the Sagrada Familia – even going to live on the site. 

In contrast to his past, the elderly Gaudí was a man who was satisfied with little and took little care over his appearance, so much so that when he was run down by a tram on 7 June on the crossroads of Bailén and Gran Via, nobody recognised him lying there in the road. Even the taxis refused to take a vagabond to the hospital. He avoided the press and dodged the photographers and so there are very few photographs of him remaining.

Gaudí died at the age of 74 on 12 June 1926 and was buried in the crypt of the church on which he had spent almost the last 43 years of his life working – the Sagrada Familia. 

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