The eclectic architect.
Puig was an eclectic architect. Too young to classify all his work within Modernism and too old to conclude it within Noucentisme.
This eclecticism will manifest itself in several directions at the same time.
On the one hand, his enormous knowledge of the history of architecture will enable him to incorporate, throughout his professional life, influences and elements from Greek, Gothic and Arabic architecture, as well as architecture from the whole of the Iberian Peninsula and from the various currents of European Modernism and American architecture.
Similarly, Puig incorporated influences from different styles in the same building: Ionic columns, Noucentista garlands, Baroque tribunes, medieval windows, Arab visual sequences, and medieval German or Dutch influences. Later, there will be all the European modalities of Modernism—which he was perfectly familiar with—such as the Belgian of Van der Velde or Víctor Horta, the Austrian of Wagner and Olbrich, the English of Voysey or the Scottish of Mackintosh.
But the influence that most characterizes him is, undoubtedly, that of Gothic architecture. Inspired by the Gothic, Puig claimed, “All my works are born from the same source: an attempt to renew Gothic art. Not a fake Gothic…not a Gothic from the time of Louis XV, or plaster or papier-mâché Gothic, not a Gothic in the style of Viollet-le-Duc… rather, with the aim to revive its spirit, steeped in the art of our times”…
The passion for crafts and trades
His family lineage would make him feel connected to the importance of trades. The patterns of the lace industry that accompanied his childhood are not at all alien to his ceramic or metalwork designs.
Master ironworker Manuel Ballarin, the mosaicists Bru and Maragliano, stucco artist Joan Paradís, stained glass makers Rigalt and Amigó, sculptors Eusebi Arnau, Joan Llimona, Pere Blay and Alfons Jujol, ceramist Enric Monserdà, and cabinetmaker Gaspar Homar, among others, would decorate his buildings with excellent works of art.
Puig was a “total” architect. It is known to everyone that he was also a PhD in Physical and Mathematical Sciences and had studied Fine Arts.
At the School of Architecture of Barcelona he taught classes on hydraulics and on the resistance of materials.
Such deep and extensive knowledge of all the moments and elements of the architectural work—from the subsoil, through the structure and finishing with the smallest details of decoration and furniture—would allow him to complete his works in record time and with exquisite quality.
Puig was the fashionable architect of the Catalan bourgeoisie: Raventós, Pich i Pon, Amatller, Baró de Quadras, Casarramona, Bofarull, Terradas, Baladia, Llorach… were his clients, regardless of their political leanings.
For most of them, he also designed funeral pantheons, as well as for families including Macià, Valldaura, Cambó, Monserdà, and Dam, among others.
In 1904, on the occasion of the celebration of the International Architecture Congress in Madrid, Puig presented a book published in French: “L’oeuvre de Josep Puig i Cadafalch.” He demonstrated, thus, his interest to spread knowledge of Catalan architecture abroad and, just as in all other areas of culture, he succeeded in doing so throughout his life.
Puig, restorer of monuments
The number of monuments restored by Puig is not very large, but they are of great importance. We are referring to the Visigothic churches of Terrassa and Sant Joan de les Abadesses, the Palau de la Generalitat [Palace of the Government of Catalonia], Sant Miquel de Cuixà Monastery, Sant Martí Sarroca, Solsona Cathedral, Santa Cecília de Montserrat, Sant Benet de Bages Monastery and La Seu d’Urgell Cathedral.
However, equally as important as his direct intervention on the monuments he restored is the fact that he created a style, influencing Adolf Florensa, César Martinell and Camil Pallàs.
Xavier Barral has made an inventory of his architectural production. Counting decorative and architectural works, pantheons, monuments, crosses, restorations, projects… he came up with 220 between 1892 and 1947.
Puig left in Catalonia a dozen works declared national monuments (BCIN) and 26 protected as local monuments (BCIL), which have become, thus, a clear testimony to the quality of his work.
The inventory cites works in Biarritz, Valladolid, Madrid, Cambridge (USA) and the Foment del Treball Nacional [National Labour Promotion Institution] hall in the Spanish pavilion at the Brussels Exhibition in 1910.
I believe that the project of the Peace Palace in The Hague (1906), which brings to mind London’s Westminster or the parliament of Budapest, and the project for a votive church for Buenos Aires (1909), in collaboration with Josep Goday, and whose central tower suggests the needle of the Sainte Chapelle of Paris, are both worthy of special attention.
Puig, designer of Barcelona
From the City Council of Barcelona, Puig contributed greatly to the remodelling of what is now the Via Laietana (1913). He chosed the central section interested, as he was, in finding a positive articulation of Roman and medieval Barcelona, with the visuals of the cathedral, etc.
An important municipal issue that he raised in Barcelona was the annexation of new towns: Sants, Gràcia, Horta…This was not foreseen in the Cerdà Plan and its rigidity made it difficult. Puig was the promoter of the international competition to establish the so-called Pla d’Enllaços [plan of interconnections] to connect these towns with the centre of the city. The plan presented by architect Lleó Jaussely was declared the winner in 1905.
Puig had an enormous capacity to synthesize, to manage issues of great complexity.
A particularly clear example, within reach of very few people, is his planning project for Montjuïc Mountain and, in particular, the 1929 exhibition. The axis of Montjuïc is the only monumental axis of Barcelona, comparable to other similar ones in Paris or Vienna, but with a much more rugged terrain in the case of Barcelona. The commission was withdrawn after the coup of Primo de Rivera, but Puig left the royal pavilions and four columns as well as the entire structure and image of the whole.
The commission for the remodelling of the Plaça de Catalunya (1924) was also withdrawn, which in 1924 was awarded to the architect Francesc de Paula Nebot.
Esteve Mach i Bosch
The beginning of Puig i Cadafalch’s commitment to politics could be dated to 1886, when Puig enters the Centre Escolar Catalanista [Catalanist Student Centre], a veritable nursery of important politicians from the years to come, including Prat de la Riba and Cambó.
He would serve as President during the 1889-90 academic year. In fact, however, his patriotism had already been seen by age 16 in the poems he published in El Semanario de Mataró.
In 1892, he was delegate for the municipality of Mataró to the Assemblea de les Bases de Manresa, convened by the Catalanist Union, which was presided over by the architect Domènech i Muntaner.
We know that in 1893 he was already a member of the League of Catalonia, within the section of Literature and Fine Arts.
Between 1890 and 1900, Puig frequently wrote in La Renaixença from where he criticized political despotism and advocated the study and enhancement of the archaeology and architecture of Catalonia, as way to reach the soul of the country, the essence of the Catalan nation.
In the same direction, Domènech i Muntaner would publish the manifesto Vers una arquitectura nacional [In search of a national architecture] and Prat de la Riba, in the first pages of La nacionalitat catalana [Catalan nationality] (1906) employs similar language—form working for the good of the country as a whole.
In 1901, together with Prat de la Riba, Cambó and others, Puig contributed to the founding of the Regionalist League of Catalonia. The mouthpiece of the new party will be La Veu de Catalunya [The Voice of Catalonia] that, driven by Prat de la Riba, will defend a much more interventionist attitude in politics than did La Renaixença. Puig i Cadafalch will be one of the regular contributors. The language used by Puig is forceful; as when he writes, “…the Catalan question is not one of good or bad administration; it is not about administrative morality, it is not only good or bad government, but it is a matter of being or not being.
The Catalans want to be better governed, better administered; but first and foremost, we want to be Catalans with everything that a people needs to exist…”
In 1901, he was elected Councillor of the City Council of Barcelona, a position he held until 1905.
The new councillors were expected to change the corrupt functioning of this institution and provide technical and professional expertise. And this is what Puig promised in an article in La Veu de Catalunya in January 1902. In any case, L’Esquella de la Torratxa published a caricature in which Puig is made to say, ”The task is colossal / but I will not back down. / Of this ill mansion / must not remain stone upon stone.”
In 1906, Catalan Solidarity was created, as a reaction to the activities of ¡Cu-Cut! and La Veu de Catalunya, as well as to the Law of Jurisdictions.
The electoral success of Solidarity allowed Puig i Cadafalch to be elected Member of Parliament for Barcelona in 1907. In his opening speech Puig will be, as always, direct. Enric Jardí cites this fragment:
…“before this outdated State, before this State that is not the appropriate organ of the variety of citizens; before you, representatives of the end of that centralist state, we come, the representatives of collective freedom”…
He will remain in this position until 1910, intervening primarily in favour of culture, infrastructures and the transfer of services.
In 1913, Puig i Cadafalch enters the Barcelona Provincial Council, which allows him to work side by side with Prat de la Riba, in a task that will become more evident with the creation of the Commonwealth in 1914. Puig will be re-elected Deputy until 1923.
After the death of Prat de la Riba, in August 1917, Puig i Cadafalch, who was already one of the eight members of the Permanent Council of the Commonwealth, was elected President by closely defeating his opponent, Joan Rovira i Agelet.
Collaboration with politicians of diverse ideology, initiated by Prat de la Riba, was continued by Puig i Cadafalch. On the one hand, because both had been required to make a virtue of necessity, given the political complexity that was reflected in the Permanent Council itself and, on the other, because it was a propitious moment in which there were numerous politicians who chose to put themselves at the service of building the country, above any other partisan interest.
In any case, Puig continued and concretized Prat’s project in a way so identical, that actions are confused and often attributed to one or another protagonist, without distinction.
Puig i Cadafalch was re-elected as president in 1919, 1921 and 1923. In 1920, he achieved the transfer of services and resources of the four Catalan Provincial Councils to the Commonwealth, which will allow him—though with a great scarcity of resources—to provide fresh impetus to the budget and projects of the Commonwealth.
Puig’s task as President will have many open fronts. One of the most important was the struggle in Madrid to achieve greater autonomy for Catalonia, with Cambó taking the lead, as he had done during Prat’s life.
The other front was in Catalonia itself, with the radicalization of political parties and, above all, of trade unions. The struggle between unions and employers that degenerated into pistolerisme [hiring of armed thugs] on both sides, the influence of the triumph of the Bolsheviks in Russia (1917), the strikes, etc. will lead to an untenable social situation.
Albert Balcells has studied this period thoroughly, in which the Commonwealth and the President himself were called to arbitrate between the opposing sides, with only meagre success.
This led to the coup of Primo de Rivera in 1923. Puig did not find out about it until only a few hours before it occurred. After Primo de Rivera agreed to meet with the President of the Commonwealth and gave him his guarantee to respect the most essential of rights of Catalonia, the Permanent Council of the Commonwealth issued a statement supporting the general based on these assurances.
None of these promises were fulfilled, and on the same day as the Commonwealth’s press release appeared in the press, the Catalan language was prohibited in public corporations as well as the use of the Catalan flag, among many other humiliations.
The consequences of these events will weigh heavily in the future assessments of Puig i Cadafalch as a politician, despite Primo de Rivera’s clear betrayal of the Commonwealth and its President.
At the end of 1923 Puig i Cadafalch went into self-exile in France to devote himself to research activities in the field of architecture and archaeology.
When Primo de Rivera fell in 1930, Puig again became a member of the Barcelona Provincial Council.
The outbreak of the civil war forced him into exile again in France, from where he returned in 1941. Especially worthy of admiration is his work of keeping the Institute of Catalan Studies alive, presiding over it and meeting clandestinely at his home, and the fact of saving important documentation of the Commonwealth that, discovered many years later, is now well preserved in the National Archive of Catalonia..Puig died on December 23, 1956, at the age of 89, and was buried in Mataró, the city of his birth.
Several historians agree that Puig was more an administrator than a politician. And he himself did not hide from affirming this to figures such as Pla or Azorin and in some of his own speeches. He was convinced that the world of politicians was full of sterile and partisan struggles and he was a man of great practical purpose and with a large portfolio of projects to move forward. He always accepted, however, the positions his party designated for him, convinced, most likely, that despite the obvious shortcomings only political commitment would allow important initiatives at the service of the country to be carried out.
Esteve Mach i Bosch
The art historian and archaeologist
Josep Puig i Cadafalch is well known as one of the great personalities of Catalan Modernist architecture. However, any impartial approach to his figure quickly finds him an untiring and, above all, multifaceted worker, involved in varied activities that, without displacing his work as an architect and designer, leads us to assess his work in other areas, from politics to archaeology, through the history of art and especially of architecture. Within this plurality of initiatives, restoration also emerged as a concern maintained throughout his career that would be developed in parallel and accompany him intermittently. His interventions in this field will take place throughout the first three decades of the 20th century.
In a way, his dedication to the restoration of monuments can be understood as a meeting point, a synthesis of all his interests that shows the extent to which Puig’s dedication to all of them corresponds to a coherent approach on his part. Restoring ancient Catalan buildings has a civic and patriotic side for him, as it entails recovery of signs of national identity, and connects with his dedication to Catalanist politicians.
However, this task is carried out not with a romantic enthusiasm but with the scientific rigor that stems from his deep study of the works. Puig was the most knowledgeable expert of his time regarding ancient Catalan architecture, with a prestige as a historian of medieval architecture that far exceeded the local level. By virtue of this dual civic and historical interest, and sometimes with the support of certain Catalan political and cultural institutions—of recent creation at that time, such as the Institute of Catalan Studies or the Commonwealth itself—he had occasion to direct and guide the restoration of several monuments. Let us not forget that as Councillor of the Barcelona City Council, he promoted the creation of the Autonomous Museums Board, converted to the Barcelona Museums Board in 1907.
(Summary of the text by Rosa Alcoy and Pere Beseran: “Puig i Cadafalch and the restoration of monuments”. Amatller Institute of Hispanic Art, 2002)
- Corbins (Segrià), Roman funeral monument.
- Cuixà, Monastery of Sant Miquel de Cuixà.
- Empúries, Greco-Roman site.
- Favara (Zaragoza), sepulchre.
- Girona, Arab baths.
- Montserrat, abbey and Santa Cecília.
- Ripoll, tombstone.
- Sant Benet de Bages, monastery.
- Sant Jaume de Vilanova, monastery.
- Sant Joan de les Abadesses, monastery.
- Sant Llorenç Savall, stained glass window..
- San Martí Sarroca, monastery.
- Sant Pere de Rodes, monastery.
- Santa Maria de la Seu d’Urgell, Cathedral.
- Solsona, Cathedral.
- Tarragona, Cathedral and Arc de Barà (Triumphal Arch of Berá).
- Terrassa, monumental ensemble of the churches of Sant Pere.
INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION DURING HIS LIFETIME:
- Doctor Honoris Causa by Sorbonne University of Paris.
- Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Barcelona.
- Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Freiburg, Germany.
- Doctor Honoris Causa by the University of Toulouse-Languedoc, France.
- Corresponding membe of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles Lettres of Paris.
- Creation of the Centre for Catalan Studies (Art and Culture) at Sorbonne University in Paris.