Antoni Gaudí i Cornet was descended from a travelling hawker named Joan Gaudí, who came from the Occitan-speaking region of the Auvergne in what is now the south of France to settle here around 1635. Despite these distant roots, his more recent ancestors were principally coppersmiths. His father, Francesc Gaudí, from the nearby village of Riudoms, finished learning his trade in Reus, where he married Antònia Cornet, the daughter of another coppersmith. When he was already a well-known architect, Gaudí himself explained that he had the ability to see space, to grasp it, because he was the “son, grandson and great-grandson of coppersmiths” and stressed that a predisposition to envisage shape, form and colour was typical of the people from the Camp de Tarragona region. A region – his, ours – characterised by the clarity of the light, the diversity of the landscape and the presence of the Mediterranean Sea, a sea which Gaudí considered “the cradle of art”. He internalised and brought together the local, indigenous features of nature and highly personal traits passed on from generation to generation to use them in his creative work as an adult. The thoughts he wrote down about his ancestral home, “the little nation of the family,” show us the importance Gaudí attached to the family unit as the basic component of his “national” conception of human society.
Adolescence and Schooling in Reus
During his childhood and adolescence Gaudí lived through a period of great ideological change, political conflict and social crisis. The unstable governments under Queen Isabel II gave way to the “Glorious” revolution of 1868 and the successive changes of regime which followed the assassination of General Prim. These included the brief reign of Amadeo I (1871-1873), the 1st Republic (1873-1874) and the Bourbon restoration (from 1874 onwards). This was the setting in which the young Gaudí grew up, starting with his personal discovery of nature and the adult world and the consequences of a chronic childhood illness which led him to observe reality particularly attentively. These were complemented by his experience at school and the first sparks of his personality. This was the time of his friendship with his classmates at high school – Eduard Toda i Güell (1855-1941) and Josep Ribera i Sans (1852-1912) – and his involvement in cultural, literary and even political activities. These activities were reflected in the humble, ephemeral sets he created for “loft” theatre productions, in the simple illustrations for the handwritten “serious-burlesque” periodical El Arlequín – the only known examples of which are being exhibited for the first time – and in the imaginative, romantic scheme to restore the then ruined monastery of Poblet – with the original documents preserved by Toda, including a sketch attributed to Gaudí.
Architectural and Artistic Work
Most of the documents related to Gaudí in the possession of Reus museum refer – not unnaturally – to his work as an architect. In 1868 Antoni Gaudí moved to Barcelona, where he finished high school and enrolled in the science faculty to prepare for entry to the provincial school of architecture. There followed a period of work and study (1873-1878) which confirmed a vocation which would very soon lead him to attain the highest levels of professional skill and recognition (the municipal diploma he was awarded for his work at Casa Calvet is proof of this). During his time as a student Gaudí came back to Reus regularly, but his visits and stays became less frequent after he began his professional career – before he had even graduated, working at the offices of the master builder Josep Fontserè i Mestre (son of the architect Josep Fontserè i Domènech, born in the village of Vinyols, near Reus) – and above all, after the death of his mother Antònia Cornet (1876), his father's consequent move to Barcelona and the sale of her family home. A direct relationship might have been re-established later on, but circumstances prevented the execution of a plan for a new façade for the sanctuary church of Misericòrdia which was to have been directed by Gaudí (1903); all that has come down to us of this project are a few rough drawings sketched in pencil. The relationship continued, however, because some of his most important clients (such as Mrs Roser Segimon and Bishop Joan Baptista Grau) and many of his assistants and colleagues (including Francesc d’Assís Berenguer, Joan Rubió and Domènec Sugranyes) were also from Reus.
The Legacy of a Genius
On the afternoon of 7th June 1926, Gaudí said goodbye to one of his workers, saying, “Come bright and early tomorrow, because we're going to do some beautiful things.” Whatever those things were, they were never to be done: a moving tram got in the way. He died on the 10th and was buried at a funeral attended by multitudes of people on the 12th, just a few days before his 74th birthday. His life was tragically cut short by an accident, but his work lives on and is in fact more and more admired. When the Reus museum was first set up in 1933, space was set aside for Gaudí in the room devoted to the most important artists and other figures from Reus. This was when the architect Domènec Sugranyes donated the papers and personal effects belonging to Gaudí which form part of this exhibition and which are practically all that survive after the fire which destroyed the files in his office at the Sagrada Família in summer of 1936. This collection is essential to any analysis of the architect's thinking and work, as shown by the mass of work published by scholars and biographers of Gaudí which uses or refers specifically to it, from Cèsar Martinell onwards. It is the posthumous legacy by the genius to his birthplace.
Jaume Massó Carballido
Director of the Salvador Vilaseca museum
Reus municipal museums institute