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Lluís Domènech i Montaner

(Barcelona, 1849-1923)

Born in Barcelona on 27 December 1849, he was the son of Pere Domènech i Saló, a prestigious editor and book-binder, and of Maria Montaner i Vila. He was one of the leading figures of Catalan Art Nouveau. Architect, historian, humanist and politician, designer of typefaces and book-bindings and illustrator, Lluís Domènech i Montaner was the perfect example of the total artist.

Domènech was ahead of his time in European architecture, with an innovatory language and a style based on a new integrating concept of all the arts.

The Editorial Montaner i Simón building publishing house (1879-1885) was Domènech’s first major project in Barcelona. It was a commission from his cousin, Ramon Montaner, who also commissioned him to build his home in Barcelona, Palau Montaner (1889-1893), and to carry out the restoration of the Castell de Santa Florentina in Canet de Mar (1900-1909). The Editorial Montaner i Simón, equipped with ultramodern machinery, was the finest printers in Barcelona, and Domènech designed many book covers for them. In 1997 the building was declared a historical monument.

The Barcelona Universal Exhibition in 1888 gave him an opportunity to construct a number of buildings that would bring him great popularity, such as the spectacular Gran Hotel Internacional, which was built in just 53 days, or the Cafè-Restaurant del Parc de la Ciutadella (1887-1888), popularly known as the Castell dels Tres Dragons (now the Museum of Zoology). He also did a number of buildings in Canet de Mar, including the Ateneu Catalanista (1885-1887) and Casa Roure (1889-1892), in Reus, including the Institut Pere Mata (1897-1919), Casa Rull (1900), now the Town Hall, and Casa Navàs (1901-1907), and the Gran Hotel (1901-1903) in Palma de Majorca.

Other works of his in Barcelona are Casa Thomas (1895-1898), Casa Lamadrid (1902), Casa Lleó i Morera (1903-1905) on the famous Mansana de la discòrdia (Block of Discord) on Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Fuster (1908-1911), the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (1901-1912) and the Palau de la Música Catalana (1905-1908). The last two projects have been declared World Heritage by UNESCO.

A lecturer at the Escola d’Arquitectura in Barcelona for 45 years - professor of composition and projects from 1899 - he was also director for 20 years.

To his brilliant professional practice we should add his liberal and progressive social, cultural and political commitment. He was three times president of the Ateneu Barcelonès (1898-1900, 1904-1906 and 1911-1914), promoter of the Jocs Florals de Barcelona in 1881 and president in 1895, and member of the Acadèmia de Bones Lletres.

Domènech also worked on the leading Catalan magazines and newspapers: La Renaixensa, Lo Catalanista, Revista de Catalunya, El Diluvio and La Veu de Catalunya. He was the founder of the weekly “El Poble Català”, around which the political party Esquerra Catalana was organised, and published technical books and essays. Among his outstanding articles is “En busca de una arquitectura nacional” (In search of a national architecture), published in La Renaixensa in 1878, a summary of his theoretical position.

He also made outstanding contributions to publishing. He was director of the “Biblioteca Artes y Letras”, published by Editorial Domènech, the family firm, which included the best writers in the country and translations of the most important works of European culture at the time. Between 1886 and 1897 and under his direction, Editorial Montaner i Simón published the monumental “Historia General del Arte”, with a first part written and illustrated by Domènech, which would be continued by Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

He began his political activity as a very young man. A member of the Jove Catalunya and the Centre Català, president of the Lliga de Catalunya (1888) and president of the Unió Catalanista (1892), he was also one of the organisers of the assembly that approved the constitution known as the Bases de Manresa and chaired the inaugural session. He joined the Centre Nacional Català (1899) and later the Lliga Regionalista (1901). He was one of the members of parliament who won the so-called “candidature of the four presidents” in 1901 and was re-elected in 1903, until in 1904, disillusioned, he abandoned politics and devoted himself to archaeological investigation and history.

He died in Barcelona on 27 December 1923.