Lluís Domènech i Montaner was born on Avinyó street in Barcelona on 27 December 1849 and died on his birthday in 1923, at the age of 74.
He is one of the most representative architects of Catalan Modernism. The second child of bookbinder Pere Domènech i Sauló and Maria Montaner i Vila, the family lived in Barcelona where the head of the family had opened an upscale workshop and would later expand the business with the sale of bookbinding machinery.
Pere Domènech’s workshop was one of the most prestigious in the country, as he had revived traditional craftsmanship that put it at the forefront of artistic bookbinding in Barcelona.
Lluís Domènech’s mother, Maria Montaner, belonged to a family of landowners from Canet de Mar. She was the sister of the future publishing mogul Ramon de Montaner, owner of the Montaner i Simon publishing house.
The Montaners had noble ancestors as far back as the 17th century, when Felip Dimas de Montaner was the owner and lord of the Canet de Mar fortress, which was later enlarged and became the famous Santa Florentina Castle.
Maria Montaner successfully passed on her appreciation of the village of her ancestors to her children, and thus Canet became the summer destination of the Montaner family. It was where Lluís Domènech met his future wife and spent long periods of time throughout his life, leaving behind a rich architectural legacy there.
Lluís Domènech studied Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences at the University of Barcelona, and graduated with a degree in Exact Sciences in 1870. In 1871, he enrolled at the Special Architecture School of the Real Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, where he obtained his architecture degree on 13 December 1873.
After completing his studies he travelled around Europe to familiarise himself with the latest architectural trends, and was impressed by traditional German architecture. Upon his return to Barcelona, where the Architect’s Association had been established in 1875, he began working as a professor of topography and mineralogy. But his experience leading up to the Universal Exhibition of 1888 consolidated Domènech as an architect. Highlights of the commissions he received include the exposition hotel, which was finished in only sixty-seven days, and the coffee-shop and restaurant in Ciutadella Park, nicknamed the Castle of the Three Dragons.
A prolific architect, in 1878 he published his article “In search of a national architecture” in the journal La Renaixença, with the goal of setting the appropriate course for a modern, Catalan national architecture which reflected diversity while respecting specific idiosyncrasies of the different nations and lands at the same time.
Alongside with his architectural career, Domènech also became involved in politics at an early age, and was one of the promoters of political Catalanism. In 1870 he helped set up the Jove Catalunya foundation and the Centre Català. He later joined the Catalan League, of which he became president in 1888, and in 1891 he founded the Unió Catalanista party, of which he was the first president with Enric Prat de la Riba as secretary. He chaired the assembly that prepared the Bases de Manresa, a document that laid the foundations for the return of the historic rights acknowledged by the Catalan constitutions. In 1899 he joined the Catalan National Centre, which merged with the Regionalist Union to become the Regionalist League, the most important party devoted to political Catalanism of the time. It was made up of members of the bourgeoisie and disappointed sectors of the middle class who stood for a Catalonia that would be free, strong and autonomous.
From 1901 to 1905 he was a Parliament member in Madrid. His commitment to defending the identity of Catalonia led him to run for legislative office in May 1901 and for municipal elections in November under the “four presidents” candidacy, four personalities that supported the Regionalist League. The other three members were Bartomeu Robert, former mayor of Barcelona and former president of the Economic Society of Friends of the Nation; Albert Rusiñol, former president of the Catalan Employer’s Association; and Sebastià Torres, former president of the Industrial and Commercial Defence League.
Domènech was re-elected in 1903, but a year later complained about Francesc Cambó for how the League had acted during the visit of the Spanish King Alfonso XIII to Barcelona. He distanced himself from active political life, causing him to separate himself from the Regionalist League and founded the weekly publication El Poble Català, which was used as the basis for organising the Catalan Left.
Despite his dissatisfaction with politics, Domènech continued his defence of the Catalan identity. In 1904, as a member of the Catalan Hiking Centre, he went on an expedition of the Pyrenees to visit local churches, whose style he dubbed early Romanesque, and prepared material on Romanesque art for his studies and his classwork. His detachment from politics made him return to work as a professor and he devoted himself to archaeological and historical research.
Lluís Domènech married Maria Roura Carnesoltes on 10 May 1875 in the Sant Jaume church in Barcelona. She was of the Canet de Mar Rouras, a long line of wealthy shipbuilders and landowners. The Roura Company had been one of the most powerful businesses in Canet de Mar in the 18th century.
The Domènech i Roura couple had eight children. One of their sons, Lluís, died when he was two (in 1887) and another, Ricard, died a teenager in 1915.
The family spent their summers in Canet de Mar at the Rocosa estate inherited by Maria Roura.
Lluís Domènech died in Barcelona of stomach cancer in 1923 at the age of 74. He had retired in Canet de Mar, where he spent his remaining days working on his studies about the history of Catalonia and Catalan heraldry. His wish to be buried in the family pantheon in Canet de Mar could not be fulfilled due to political circumstances (the dictatorship of Spanish general Miguel Primo de Rivera). He was buried in the Sant Gervasi cemetery in Barcelona.
His architecture is based on an integrated vision of all the arts; the characteristic sinuous lines of Modernism, the use of exposed brick, mosaics, ceramics, sgrafitti and stained glass, adding decorative solutions while staying true to northern European influences.
Highlights of his work include:
1. Palau de la Música Catalana (1905-1908), Barcelona, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
2. Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (1905-1930), Barcelona, declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO.
3. Casa Lleó i Morera (1902-1906), Barcelona.
4. Casa Fuster (1908-1911), Barcelona.
5. Casa Navàs (1901-1907), Reus.
6. Casa Solà Morales (1913), Olot.
7. Pere Mata Institute (1897-1919), Reus.
8. Grand Hotel (1901-1903), Palma de Mallorca.
9. Santa Florentina Castle (1896-1909), Canet de Mar.
10. Casa Roura (1891-92), Canet de Mar.
11. Casa Domènech (1918-1919), Canet de Mar.
12. Montaner i Simón Publishing House (1880-1882), Barcelona.
13. Hotel Internacional (1888), Barcelona.
14. Completion of the Seminario Mayor (Grand Séminaire) of the Comillas Pontifical University (1889-1896), Comillas, Autonomous Community of Cantabria, Spain.
15. Monument to the Marquis of Comillas (1892), Comillas, Autonomous Community of Cantabria, Spain
It is also important to mention the other artists and craftsmen who, working under Lluís Domènech, exquisitely finished all four floors of the building, the staircase, main entry foyer and ground floor retail space.
Gaspar Homar: Mason, woodworker and decorator. He was in charge of decorating the interior of the house and the furniture.
Eusebi Arnau: Sculptor. Together with Alfons Juyol, they created the sculptures on the façade and interior of the apartments, featuring the women with vases on the ground floor and the relief in the main floor apartment that tells the story of “The infant king’s wet nurse".
Joan Carreras: Sculptor. He was hired by Gaspar Homar to model the faces for the walls of the main dining room and collaborated on the living room furniture.
Josep Pey i Farriol: He collaborated on the design of some of the marquetry panels designed by Gaspar Homar to decorate the main dining room.
Sebastià Junyent i Sans: He also collaborated with Gaspar Homar on the furniture design.
Alfons Juyol i Bach: Sculptor specialising in architectural sculpting. He created the sculptures on the façade that portray 20th century inventions (telephone, gramophone, electricity and photography), the busts and the gazebo that crowns the façade.
Mario Maragliano Navone: An Italian living in Barcelona, he made the wonderful mosaic floors on every storey using traditional Roman mosaic techniques, including the floors on every landing.
Lluís Bru i Salelles: Specialist in mosaics and stage design. He made the mosaic floors of the entry stairs and façade together with Mario Maragliano.
Antoni Serra i Fiter: Ceramicist and painter. He created the heads and hands of the female figures on the panels of the main dining room using the trencadís technique.
Antoni Rigalt i Blanch: Painter, stained glass maker and artist. He made the stained glass windows for the entire building. The most spectacular is the mural on the rear façade, which represents the tree of life and extends from the main to the fourth floor.
Casa Escofet: Hydraulic mosaic factory in Esplugues de Llobregat, which was sourced for the bedroom floors.