Catalan Modernism in Lleida: art in symbiosis with nature

This delightful and magic type of art, which is often initially unknown, invites the traveller to wander through and enjoy the rich and varied nature of our lands. It offers an unrepeatable symbiosis between landscape and monument.

Catalan Modernism (Art Nouveau) was a cultural and artistic movement that flourished in Catalonia at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. The main consumes of this new form of art were the Catalan bourgeoisie and the intellectuals of the period, who were particularly attracted by the flowing and flowing forms of a style that, even today, attracts people with the power of its colours.

The main manifestations of Catalan Modernism in western Catalonia are examples of architecture. The most significant of these design constructions are where it is still possible to admire the good taste of the clients and promoters. There are also examples of religious temples that, although rather discreet, provide an insight into the religious art of the time.

Under the name of the cathedrals of the countryside” it is possible to discover the agricultural buildings that the illustrious Valencian architect Cèsar Martinell i Brunet constructed in the middle of the countryside of these comarques (local districts) in the early years of the 20th century. These wild but simple, elegant and unique buildings stand out on account of the tranquillity and sobriety of their forms. In the comarca of La Segarra (Spain), the most monumental example can be found in the flourmill of the Agricultural Syndicate of Cervera (1921), which has recently been declared a a Cultural Value of National Interest by the Generalitat de Catalunya. Then, going on as far as Sant Guim de Freixenet, we can enjoy the serenity transmitted by the admirable interior of the wheat store of its agricultural syndicate. In L’Urgell (Spain) there are two more buildings to interest the visitor the cooperative of Verdú and the olive oil mill of Ciutadilla. In El Pla d’Urgell (Spain) constructions of interest include the syndicate of Miralcamp, the Les Planes cooperative at Torregrossa, the agricultural syndicate of Ivars and the agricultural cooperative of Sant Roc in the municipal area of El Palau d’Anglesola. In Les Garrigues (Spain), there are twosyndicate buildings at Arbeca, while in El Segrià (Spain) there is the old olive oil mill of Albatàrrec. Altogether, this adds up to an attractive, curious and little known heritage that gives added identity to the places where these buildings have been constructed. They constitute the most valuable treasures of these dry lands.

As we move away from the country, and into the urban areas of the capital, the nature of the buildings changes. The mark of Catalan Modernism then becomes more clearly visible in a significant number of civil and industrial buildings. One of the most symbolic architectonic groups in Lleida city is formed by the Teatre Municipal de l’Escorxador (c/ Lluís Companys, s/n), a work by the Tarragonese architect Francesc de Paula Morera i Gatell, and which can now be contemplated in its restored and remodelled form. Parts of the pavilions of the former slaughterhouse were destroyed during the unfortunate events of the Spanish Civil War of 1936. The same fate befell the walls and service hut of the Camps Elisis park.

Although some of them have been remodelled, a route taking in all of the surviving Catalan Modernist houses is a genuine, attainable and healthy way of discovering Western Catalonia. In El Segrià (Spain), these buildings stand out on account of the artistic detail of their facades, with their rich stuccoed stonework and the laboriously worked ironwork and woodwork on their windows and doors. This architecture, which is as familiar as it is unique, invites us to find out more about the urbanism of this inland city. If we start our route in the old part of the city, we can admire Casa Magí Llorens (c/ Major, on the corner of c/ Cavallers), where the most important features include the recently restored decoration of its façade, which includes floral motifs on stonework.

Walking a few metres further, we come to Casa Bergós, or Casa Fregola, which dates from the beginning of the 20th century (Plaça de la Sal, on the corner of Clot de les Monges), which stands out for the beauty of its ironwork and the use of floral and geometric motifs on its stucco. Walking along the Carrer Major (main street) in the old part of the city, following the course of the River Segre –which crosses the city and helps to bestow it with identity–, visitors can marvel at the elegant and distinguished Casa Melcior (Plaça Sant Francesc), with its majestic first floor gallery, which is decorated with stained glass windows, tiles, wood and wrought iron of the period. Two other houses can be found in Avinguda Blondel, parallel to the river: Casa Xammar (1920-1950), with its wide windows and ornamental stonework and la Casa Morera, which is also known as the Casa de la Lira due to the form of its facade.

Finally there are the Cases Noves or Cases de Balasch(Rambla d'Aragó), a group of three two-story buildings with a wide bay-window, which was built in 1914 and which is particularly significant for its use of marble. Leaving this area, but without going out of the city, we find the La Meta flourmill (c/ Príncep de Viana) and the Mercat del Pla(market in c/ Sant Martí) which have all of the characteristics of typical Catalan Modernist buildings, with a relatively simple designs, well-adapted to their industrial and commercial functions. InTàrrega (L’Urgell-Spain) it is also possible to follow a route along different streets and see the surviving Catalan Modernist buildings: Casa Càrcer-Sobies, Cal Maimó and the former Balcells flourmill are just a few examples.

Visitors who want to get away from the noise of the city and enjoy Catalan Modernism and nature together should make an effort to visit. El Solsonès (Spain), which is a comarca that offers landscapes of surprising natural beauty. For example, nature seems to be one of the strongest signs of identity of the small settlement of Olius, which stands on the left bank of the Sant Ponç reservoir, though the place to enjoy this to the full is the local el cemetery. This is a truly Modernist monument with a certain Gaudian air: it was built upon large rocks in 1916, by Bernardí Martorell, a disciple of Gaudí. This work, with its rather particular interplay of forms, is unique in Catalonia and constitutes one of the most important examples of Catalan Modernist art to be found in the Lands of Lleida. In the municipal district of Alàs i Cerc, in the comarca of L’Alt Urgell (Spain), it is well-worth paying a visit to the hermitage of Sant Antoni del Tossal to marvel at the unrepeatable symbiosis between the architecture and the natural setting.

In the Pobla de Segur (El Pallars Jussà-Spain) visitors must make a visit to theMauri complex, which is a group of two civil buildings dating from the beginning of the 20th century (1903-1907) and provides an example of how Catalan Modernism reached the Lleida Pyrenees. The complex, which was promoted by Ramon Mauri i Arnalot, a well-known villager of the time, comprises: the Olive Oil Mill of Sant Josep, presided over by a work by the well-known Modernist sculptor Josep Llimona; Casa Mauri, the present seat of the local council; and an old summer house, where visitors can enjoy a pleasant stroll through the exotic gardens. Mention should also be made of the special interest of the mosaics that cover the outer walls of the construction. They are the work of the mosaic maker and decorator Lluís Bru i Salelles, who was also the author of the well-known mosaics of the Palau de la Música Catalana.

In the comarca of La Noguera (Spain) we should no forget legacies of the importance of that left to the village of Ponts by Antoni Samarra (1886-1914), a painter and sculptor with a well-renown, but unfortunately short-lived son, professional career. In Balaguer one of the most outstanding buildings is Xalet Montiu, whose author remains unknown, which is currently being restored and will be the future seat of the Institut Municipal Progrés i Cultura (Municipal institute for Progress and Culture). The wine growing village of Raimat (El Segrià- Spain) was the chosen location for Gaudí disciple Joan Rubió i Bellver’s temple of the Sagrat Cor (Scared Heart) and the Raimat cellars at the beginning of the 20th century. The unity, wholeness, rationality and simplicity of the interiors of these buildings, with their large parabolic arches, are typical of Catalan Modernism and attract visitors from near and far. Finally, we should not forget the Catalan Modernist style paintings by the artist Miquel Farré who, in 1935, decorated the apse of the church with scenes from the Passion of Christ with warm, energetic brushwork that really brought the inside of the temple to life. Another most important contribution can be found in the sculpture of Jacint Cuyàs, who had also worked beside Gaudí. He was the author of the lectern, which is one of the most precise pieces of wrought iron work to be found in the previously mentioned temple of Raimat. It is really worthwhile wandering through these country locations and their monuments in order to discover and enjoy a rich heritage that is often relatively unknown and undervalued. These treasures surprise, enchant, captivate and seduce those who discover them.

Article published in issue 23 of the Magazine “Ara Lleida”. Text by Roser Martín