Masters of the Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau was an artistic movement that bloomed in Europe from the end of the 1800’s to the first quarter of the 1900’s. Generally known as Art Nouveau because it started in Paris, France, it received other names depending on the location. In Barcelona, Spain, it was called Modernisme (Modernism).
Hector Guimard was the leading architect of Art Nouveau in Paris. Antoni Gaudi was maybe not considered a leader in his times, as his designs were too much out-of-the-box for then. His more traditional colleagues Domenech i Muntaner and Puig i Cadafalch were considered the leaders instead. But in the end, history has acknowledged Gaudi his prominent role. Let’s see what these two architects have in common!
How do compare Hector Guimard and Antoni Gaudi?
Hector Guimard was the youngest of the two. He was born in 1867, Antoni Gaudi in 1852. But they lived almost equally long lives, 75 years the French architect and 74 the Catalan. None of them were born in the capital. Gaudi was born in Reus, a small town now, but a bustling commercial hub in those times. Guimard was born in Lyon, the second most important city in France. But both moved to the metropolis to study architecture and work. Gaudi came to Barcelona, Guimard headed to Paris.
However, Guimard was a top student that received mentions and awards, whereas Gaudi was an average student who only stood out in the areas that he considered of real interest. After finishing his architecture studies, Guimard started soon building his first projects and teaching. Between 1885-88 he designs Castel Béranger, considered the first Art Nouveau building in Paris and Guimard’s first major work. Instead Gaudi keeps a low profile for several years. It’s not until 1883-85 that he builds his first project, Casa Vicens. His first masterpiece wont’ come until 1905 with Casa Batllo.
Both artists, though, will reach the maturity of their styles between 1900-1915 and after that their popularity will decline. For both one of the main reasons was that the lavishness of their projects made them very expensive and not many could afford them. Plus neither of them were easy to deal with.
For Gaudi it was also the death Count Guell, his best friend, patron and protector. He then immersed himself in the construction of the Sagrada Familia Church, a project that he knew would take generations to be completed. For that he created unique mathematical calculations that wouldn’t be recognized as exceptional until our times. He never married. He died in 1929, run over by a tram. Dressed as a beggar, nobody recognized him and he ended up in a hospital for poor people until his friends found him at the very last minute.
For Guimard, World War I made the Art Nouveau out of fashion, and Art Déco never really attracted him much. He moves from Paris to the countryside, and eventually to New York right before War World II starts. His wife was an American Jewish, and they won’t risk staying in Europe. He dies in 1942 in a luxury condominium of 5th Avenue.
The Paris metro entrances are probably the most famous work of Hector Guimard. He was invited to design them after the official architecture contest didn’t provide a suitable designer. The project entailed access pergolas, streetlights and balustrades. They are a great example of the Guimard Style, with organic “coup de fouet” shapes and floral inspiration.
Gaudi’s father was a cauldron maker, and he grew up watching his father do practical metal work. As an architect, metal becomes a material he cherishes and masters for ornamental purposes. He did pergolas, balustrades, balconies and streetlights, but his most accomplished piece in wrought iron is definitely the Dragon Gate of the Güell Pavilions.
The buildings by Gaudi and Guimard look quite different at a first sight. Gaudi uses color and tiles in many of his works. Instead, Guimard enjoys the color of plain brick. However, when you look at the lines, that’s when you find the similitudes.
Hector Guimard architecture:
Antoni Gaudi architecture:
A church, a synagogue and a concert hall
Antoni Gaudi became a fervent Catholic during the last quarter of his life. He worked in the project of the Sagrada Familia Church, that he accepted in 1883 after the original architect quitted. And he’d be working on it until the end of his days. It was his dream and his passion, an enterprise that would take generations to be completed. The church has become the most important tourist attraction in Barcelona. It’s not completed yet, 10 more towers are still under construction, but the inside is finished and already used for services.
Hector Guimard was born a Catholic, but married a Jewish lady in 1909. That got him the connections that led to the commission of the construction of a synagogue in the Parisian Marais district. Severely damaged during attacks in World World II, it’s been restored and continues to be an active orthodox synagogue.
Contrarily to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, that synagogue isn’t one of the most important works of Guimard. His biggest project was the Concert Hall Salle Humbert de Romans (1898-1901). It had room for 1150 spectators, 120 musicians and 100 choir members. Unfortunately it didn’t last long: it was demolished in 1905.
Gaudi never built a concert hall (although the acoustics of Sagrada Familia are magnificent). But his teacher and competitor Domenech i Muntaner did, and it’s mind-blowing. It’s called Palau de la Música Catalana and it continues to be one of the most important music centers in Barcelona.
AND BONUS! What was the common inspiration for both masters?
Nature and Trees
Nature is a basic element in Art Nouveau and Modernisme. But what surprised me in my research to write this post is to find out two quotes, one by Guimard, the other by Gaudi, that are so similar in essence:
The branches of the trees, the plants stems, sometimes straight, sometimes undulating, aren’t they architectural models?
The tree outside my workshop is my teacher.
What architect is your favorite? Hector Guimard or Antoni Gaudi?
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