In the latter half of the 19th century a quiet revolution happened in Catalonia. That revolution was the reawakening of Catalan as a language after a long time of being suppressed. This in combination with a big financial boom thanks to the wine industry in the rest of Europe failing miserably led to a strong cultural movement to appear in Catalonia. The modernista movement, or Catalan Art Nouveau as it is sometimes called.
To show the world what they could do Barcelona arranged the 1888 World Exhibition, and for that they decided to redesign the city with new parks, buildings, yes, even an entirely new city plan, l'Eixample – the extension – with streets like El Paral·lel, Rambla de Catalunya and La Diagonal and the creation of the Parc de la Ciutadella. And as you can expect it was the architects that took hold of the reins with Lluís Domènech i Montaner being the first to define "Modernisme arquitectonic" where he tried to describe an architecture that reflected the Catalan national character.
This movement quickly spread to other art forms, like sculpture, painting, decorative arts, literature and music. One of the most prominent painters, Ramon Casas, opened a famous café called "Els quatre gats" (The four cats) where a lot of the modernista artists met for a few intense years. One of the more famous ones was a young man called Pablo Picasso, and some of his early paintings, especially the blue period is heavily influenced by the modernista movement. Ramon Casas also started a magazine called "Pèl i ploma" and became the unofficial voice of the movement.
The initial driving force of the modernista movement were the architects. That was only natural considering that the World Exhibition required an enormous amount of buildings to be built. Using the Gothic influence but using new materials like iron and ceramics the architects managed to create a unique style language very typical for Catalonia and Barcelona.
Lluís Domènech i Montaner was the initiator, and his work can be seen in buildings such as Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona, as well as in Institut Pere Mata in Reus.
The most famous of them all is probably Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. His buildings can bee seen all over Barcelona and his strong links with the Güell family can be seen in Palau Güell, Park Güell and Colonia Güell among others. He has also designed two of the most famous buildings on Passeig de Gracía, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, as well as the still unfinished church La Sagrada Família.
Other famous Catalan modernista architects were Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Antoni M. Gallissà i Soqué, Josep Maria Jujol i Gibert, Cèsar Martinell i Brunet, Manuel J. Raspall i Mayol, Joan Rubió i Bellver , Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia and Salvador Valeri i Pupurul.
The sculpture tradition was already well established in Catalonia, but the modernista movement allowed for more freedom and possibilities. Suddenly any idea could be manifested in sculpture, and they were. Both as part of the new buildings, but also as sculpture in its own right.
Here the initiators were the brothers Agapit Vallmitjana i Barbany and VenancI Vallmitjana i Barbany in whose studio people like Josep Llimona i Bruguera started out. As the architectural influence was strong Domènech i Montaner worked with several well known sculptors such as Eusebi Arnau i Mascort, Alfons Juyol i Bach, Miquel Blay i Fàbregeues and Pau Gargallo i Catalán.
Just as with the sculptors the modernista movement was a signal to try something new and get away from the old, traditional ways of painting. Because of the different approach of the artists there is not one single modernista style, but instead it's an experimental period in Catalan painting. Of the artists active in Barcelona at the time, Ramón Casas i Carbó, Eliseu Meifrèn i Roig, Joaquim Mir i Trinxet, Santiago Rusiñol i Prats, Miquel Utrillo i Morlius and Lluïsa Vidal i Puig are generally considered the most pure modernista painters, and their subjects are generally portraits and landscapes.
The strong attention to detail that the modernista architects showed also spurred a whole bunch of decorative arts people, a lot of it to decorate the buildings and other structures that the architects were creating. A lot of the really interesting objects were actually made by the famous architects themselves. Josep Maria Jujol was for example extremely good in ceramics, mosaic, jewelry and furniture design. Gaudí was also an excellent furniture designer, and most of his private houses came complete with specially designed furniture.
As one can expect the Catalan modernista literature circulated a lot about Catalan subjects, and the turning point was when the magazine "L'Avens" changed its name to "l'Avenç " to signify new Catalan rules for syntax and grammar. The typical structure for the modernista literature is based on short stories that are integrated into a larger story. Some of the most famous authors of the time were Raimon Casellas i Dou, Joan Margall i Gorina, Ignasi Iglesias i Pujades, Prudenci Bertrana, Víctor Català and Josep Pons i Pagès. The modernista movement allowed the Catalan literature to be recognized alongside other European literature.
Just as with the painters the modernista musicians and composers are not very easy to define, other than that they fall within the modernista time period, and that there also was a much increased freedom of expression. Just as in literature there was also a very strong folkloristic and Catalan nationalist influence, as shown by Lluís Millet i Pagès tribute to the Catalan flag in "El cant de la Senyera", but also in a very strong Wagnerian influence. This might sound odd, but opera was something enjoyed by all classes in Barcelona, and the Wagner operas were never connected with the political movements he represented in Germany, I presume because of language barriers. The Catalan composer most closely regarded with the "pure" modernista movement was Enric Morera i Viura, but others such as Isaac Albéniz i Pasqual, Eric Granados i Campiña and Antoni Nicolau i Parera were also part of the group, but to mention a few.
Just as the modernista movement was started by the 1888 World Exhibition it was also ended in the run-up to the 1929 World Exhibition. By the mid 1920s a new movement was emerging, the Noucentisma.