Modernisme: Wikis

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Modernisme (Catalan for modernism) also known, in English, as Catalan modernism, was the Catalan equivalent to a number of fin-de-siècle art movements, such as Symbolism, Decadence and Art Nouveau / Jugendstil, from roughly 1888 to 1911. The modernisme movement was centred on the city of Barcelona, and its best-known exponent was the architect Antoni Gaudí.

Modernisme was a cultural movement led by deeply individualistic and anti-traditionalist intellectuals who, roughly from 1888 (the First International Exposition of Barcelona) to 1911 (the death of Joan Maragall, the most important Modernista poet), attempted to update Catalan arts and ideas so as to uplift Catalan culture to a par with other European cultures. Such renewal included a distinctive style of Art Nouveau in architecture and plastic arts, but also the introduction of Symbolism, Decadence, Nietzschean Vitalism, Parnassianism and other contemporaneous movements into Catalan literature and philosophy, a modernizing transformation of Catalan traditional music, and so forth.

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Main concepts behind Modernisme

Catalan Modernistes, not unlike Symbolists and Decadents such as Charles Baudelaire or even Oscar Wilde, largely rejected bourgeois values, which they thought to be the opposite of art. Consequently, they adopted two stances: they either set themselves apart from society in a bohemian or culturalist attitude (Decadent and Parnassian poets, Symbolist playwrights, etc.) or they attempted to use art to change society (Modernista architects and designers, playwrights inspired by Henrik Ibsen, some of Maragall's poetry, etc.)

Modernistes also opposed the traditionalism and religiousness of the Renaixença Catalan Romantics, whom they ridiculed in plays such as Santiago Rusiñol's Els Jocs Florals de Canprosa (roughly, "The Poetry Contest of Proseland").

Another important influence upon Modernisme was Catalan nationalism. The ideas of Valentí Almirall and Enric Prat de la Riba influenced Modernistes, most of whom opposed the centralism and militarism of the 19th century Spanish state and wanted Catalan culture to be regarded as equal to all other European cultures. Such ideas can be seen in some of Rusiñol's plays against the Spanish army (most notably L'Hèroe), in some authors close to anarchism (Jaume Brossa and Gabriel Alomar, for example) or in the articles of federalist anti-monarchic writers such as Miquel dels Sants Oliver.

Modernisme in architecture and the plastic arts

Although the Catalan word modernisme has a wider sense, in the arts it usually refers to the currents known in other countries as Art Nouveau, Modern Style, Jugendstil, Stile Liberty, Sezessionstil, etc. It is a style basically derived from the English Arts and Crafts movement, the Pre-Raphaelite movement, the Gothic revival and the Aesthetic Movement (a restrained prelude to Art Nouveau), as well as from Symbolism. It is characterized by the predominance of the curve over the straight line, by rich decoration and detail, by the frequent use of vegetal and other organic motifs, the taste for asymmetry, a refined aestheticism, and the dynamic shapes.

Antoni Gaudí is the best-known architect of this movement. Other influential architects were Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and later Josep Maria Jujol and Enrique Nieto. Notable painters from the movement include the abovementioned Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas.

Modernisme in Catalan literature

In literature, Modernisme stood out the most in narrative. The nouvelles and novels of decadent writers such as Prudenci Bertrana (whose highly controversial Josafat involved a demented priest who ends up killing a prostitute), Caterina Albert (also known as Víctor Catala), author of bloody, expressionistic tales of rural violence, opposed to the idealisation of nature propugned by Catalan Romantics, or Raimon Casellas have been highly influential upon later Catalan narrative, essentially recovering a genre that had been lost due to political causes since the end of the Middle Ages. Those writers often, though not always, show influences from Russian literature of the 19th Century and also Gothic novels. Still, works not influenced by those sources, such as Joaquim Ruyra's slice-of-life tales of the North-Eastern Catalan coast are perhaps even more influential than that of the aforementioned authors, and Rusiñol's well-known L'Auca del Senyor Esteve (roughly "The Tale of Mr. Esteve"; an auca is a type of illustrated broadside, similar to a one-sheet comic book) is an ironic critique of Catalan bourgeoisie more related to ironic, pre-Realist Catalan costumisme.

In poetry, Modernisme closely follows Symbolist and Parnassian poetry, with poets frequently crossing the line between both tendencies or alternating between them. Another important strain of Modernista poetry is Joan Maragall's "Paraula viva" (Living word) school, which advocated Nietzschean vitalism and spontaneous and imperfect writing over cold and thought-over poetry. Although poetry was very popular with the Modernistes and there were lots of poets involved in the movement, Maragall is the only Modernista poet that is still widely read today.

Modernista theatre was also important, as it smashed the insubstantial regional plays that were popular in 19th century Catalonia. There were two main schools of Modernista theatre: social theatre, which intended to change society and denounce injustice—the worker stories of Ignasi Iglésias, for example Els Vells ("The old ones"); the Ibsen-inspired works of Joan Puig i Ferreter, most notably Aigües Encantades ("Enchanted Waters"); Rusiñol's antimilitaristic play L'Hèroe—and symbolist theatre, which emphasised the distance between artists and the bourgeoisie—for example, Rusiñol's Cigales i Formigues ("Cicadas and Ants") or El Jardí Abandonat ("The Abandoned Garden").

Modernisme in Catalan linguistics

Modernist ideas impelled L'Avenç collaborator Pompeu Fabra to devise a new orthography for Catalan. However, only with the later rise of Noucentisme did his projects come to fruition and end the orthographic chaos which reigned at the time.

The end of Modernisme

By 1910, Modernisme had been accepted by the bourgeoisie and had pretty much turned into a fad. It was around this time that Noucentista artists started to ridicule the rebel ideas of Modernisme and propelled a more bourgeois art and a more right-of-center version of Catalan Nationalism, which eventually rose to power with the victory of the Lliga Regionalista in 1912. Until Miguel Primo de Rivera's dictatorship suppressed all substantial public use of Catalan, Noucentisme was immensely popular in Catalonia. However, Modernisme did have a revival of sorts during the Second Spanish Republic, with avant-garde writers such as Futurist Joan-Salvat Papasseit earning comparisons to Joan Maragall, and the spirit of Surrealists such as Josep Vicent Foix or Salvador Dalí being clearly similar to the rebellion of the Modernistes, what with Dalí proclaiming that Catalan Romanticist Àngel Guimerà was a putrefact pervert. However, the ties between Catalan art from the 1930s and Modernisme are not that clear, as said artists were not consciously attempting to continue any tradition.

Also, Modernista architecture survived longer, as, since the Spanish city of Melilla in Northern Africa experienced an economic boom at the turn of the century, its new bourgeoisie showed its riches by massively ordering Modernista buildings - this way, the workshops established there by Catalan architect Enrique Nieto continued producing decorations in this style even when it was out of fashion in Barcelona, which results in Melilla having, oddly enough, the second largest concentration of Modernista works after Barcelona.

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