A different sort of day today, Saturday the 6th, as we went to museums. Of course the other days have been museum-like experiences but these were straight museums. We got a taxi to the first one – taxis here are almost the same price as buses when you have 4 in the taxi, so when it is convenient we have been using them.
Museo National d’Arte de Catalonia
This museum (gallery) – a very impressive building up wide sets of steps, looking out over Barcelona – was built in 1929 for an International Exhibition and renovated in 2005. It is a beautiful building, very spacious and light, and a pleasure to be in. There is a wide range of Catalan art there, but we concentrated entirely on the collection of Modern Art. What was most interesting was their approach which was to trace the development of modern art in a logical fashion making it much easier to understand why one movement followed another. We finally realised the close alignment between Spanish ‘moderismo’ and the ‘secessionist’ movement in Germany and Austria at the turn of the 19th-Century. We both felt that our appreciation of art generally and modern art in particular was greatly advanced by the 3 hours we spent there. Here are a few of the art works which particularly caught our eye.
Fundacio Joan Miro
We then walked down the hill to another beautiful gallery which houses only the work of Joan Miro. It is in upper Barcelona on Montjuic, and fits into the rocky and green landscape snugly. The foundation was set up by Miro and a close associate to encourage young ‘contemporary’ artists. The Centre was built by Josep Louis Sert in 1971 to house specifically Miro art – both paintings and sculpture with the express purpose of making art accessible to all. A lot of the art on show was donated by Miro himself, and other donations followed.
Miro was born in Barcelona in 1893 in a small town in Catalonia called Mont-roig in the Tarragona country side. He loved to return there and referenced it in his work. He died in Mallorca at the age of 90 where he had a study which he loved. He was influenced strongly by primitivism and nature, and everyday objects formed his ideas. A quote from him illustrates the man. “We Catalans believe you must always plant your feet firmly on the ground if you want to be able to jump up in the air. The fact that I come down to earth from time to time makes it possible for me to jump all the higher.”
In the early 20s Miro settled in Paris and through surrealism was inspired to fuse painting and poetry. He shed conventional standards and his work changed greatly. The Spanish civil war and WW2 had a strong effect on him and his painting. Violence could be seen in his painting – and moons, galaxies, women, staircases showed his yearning to escape.
In the 60s he moved to simplify his work and they became increasingly bare. He spoke of how difficult it was to achieve the minimum with a maximum of expression. “In my view, to gain freedom is to gain simplicity.” In the early years his colours were mainly red, blue, yellow and green but in the 70s black was increasingly used. This led him to mural painting some of it quite large, and large sculptures. He saw these as more likely to reach the public at large.
The exhibition is a difficult one to interpret but it encourages the viewer to think outside the square. We won’t look at Miro in future without this exhibition influencing us.
Montserrat, Sunday 7 May
Today we were up with the larks and on a bus tour to Monserrat by 9am. Monserrat is a Benedictine monastery 50km from Barcelona. The monastery was founded by Abbot Oliba in the 11th century. At present 80 monks live there. Once out of the suburbs, the drive there is spectacular through craggy, heavily treed landscape . The land shapes are a mindful of some in central Australia. This is against a further dramatic view across to the Pyrenees , with snow still visible. The area is popular for cyclists, walkers and rock climbers – there were 3 climbers terrifyingly high up as we watched.
Four trees are important at the monastery for symbolic reasons. The palm – symbolising beauty and linked with the life of Jesus; the pencil pine – connecting heaven and earth; the olive – symbolising peace; and the laurel – symbolising honour. These are the four trees to be seen in front of the original 14th-Century Cloisters.
The façade of the basilica is especially noteworthy. It and the many sculptures are made of the rock from the surrounding area – a light rock with a pink tinge. Inside it is a beautiful place. Towards the end of the Mass – attended by literally hundreds – we stood with the many pilgrims in order to hear the boys choir which is famous throughout Spain. They sang some lovely close harmonies, nothing we knew. We noticed that after Mass, the Black Madonna statue high up in the Alter facade was constantly passed by pilgrims paying their respects. The queue for this pilgrim ritual extended halfway around the Cloisters in front of the Church.
Apart from the church we also saw an informative video on the monastery and enjoyed a short wine tasting – as is often the case, the monks are into making wine. We went for a lovely walk up part of the surrounding hill and passed 12 of the 14 stages of the cross, before running out of time. We could have gone to the museum but time was too short. We were sorry not to see the Caravaggio of Saint Jerome.
Another spectacular drive down the mountain and back to Barcelona by 2.30pm. By then we were hungry so found a very Spanish place advertising a Menu of the Day for 11 Euro. It was beautiful and we all felt much better for getting some food in our stomachs. The other three have just been to sleep – while I have written this.
Lastly to a guitar concert at a local church. It was wonderful – in a very small chapel of the Church of San Anna (12th century), with a glass of wine after in the cloister. A married couple, Ksenia Axelroud (her) and Joan Benejam (him). They were superb. We would love to see them invited to Australia. Little that they played was recognisable. Only a Carmen selection, the Adagio from a concerto by Rodrigo, and a flamenco number. The rest was highly classical. Their encore was to play the one guitar with their 4 hands – it was very cleverly done, and lovely to see their intimacy – necessary when 2 people play one guitar.
Monday 8 May – Last look at Barcelona
We were all very aware of fitting lots into our last day. We first tried the Museo Picasso – but found it closed as it is Monday. We have seen lots of Picasso, so not so sad – the building from the outside was impressive with six connected very old palaces. It also took us to a lovely part of Barcelona where we enjoyed a wander – with Al Having further fun with his photos.
Santa Maria del Mar
Next port of call was Santa Maria del Mar – ‘del Mar’ because when this church was built in 14th century the sea was close by – now at least 5 kms away. It was a most interesting church to visit with clear evidence of the guilds who had been important in its creation. There was an account of the building of the church, all in Spanish, but a lot of it was translatable. It included illustrations of how the scaffolding must have been organised – blows the mind when you think of a huge Gothic church being built with no cranes, lifts, and electric assistance. The church also had some very good art – some of it quite modern, including a wonderful stained glass window of a candle, and a beautiful rose window. Definitely worth the visit.
Museu Diocesa – Gaudi Exhibition
A coffee next in a lovely little square, then to Museu Diocesa – which has a permanent Gaudi exhibition. We were there for 2 and a half hours, and could have stayed even longer. It is a very exciting and sophisticated exhibition, really well organised, with highly professional audio visual work. Unfortunately we were not permitted to take photos – other than this one which is a constantly changing ingenious multi-mirrored presentation of Gaudi designs. The audio we hired was wonderful and absolutely essential. It is very close to the cathedral in the Pia Almoina Building in the Gothic Quarter of the city. It is arranged over 4 floors, with audio or audio visual input for everything which is shown. It is extremely clear and easy to follow. Before going to this exhibition we had been on previous days to a number of Gaudi creations but this museum helped us to learn a lot more about the life and development of this extraordinary architect, and to answer some of our questions. There were any number of often very beautiful objects and art pieces from his studios, original documents, and models showing how he created his building forms. It was quite an experience. We are pleased we came to it after seeing Gaudi work around Barcelona, and would recommend that rather than coming here first. However, if we ever come back I would go here first to refresh our memories, then re-visit his creations.
At 4.45 we found a place to eat the lunch we hadn’t yet had. They called what they were selling tapas – in fact they were larger helpings than the usual tapas – so we had a very tasty late lunch with a beer.
We had a further wander with our last Gaudi port of call, so to speak, being Palau Guell just off La Rambla. This palace was Eusebi Guell’s downtown pad which he commissioned his friend Antoni to design and build for him in the late 1880s early in their relationship and well before Park Guell was conceived. This building has all the signs of Gaudi’s later work, with an enormous amount of decorative metalwork around the windows, balconies and doors. Al took many shots of these beautiful pieces of Gaudi art, but on his Nikon, so they are not readily available for a blog ‘on the run’. From what we have posted earlier, you’ll be able to imagine the serpents, eagles, snakes and foliage he dreamed up to adorn Guell’s Eixample dwelling.
We continued our final stroll till 6.30, continuing to be amazed at the design of this part of the city – three major thoroughfares almost in parallel with either no vehicles or on La Rambla a single vehicle lane up and back on the sides, with a ‘two lane equivalent’ walkway up the middle. And those walkways were always crowded! As you can perhaps imagine, we ended up pretty tired so made our way home for late nibbles and drinks before an early night.
Our flight to Doha is 9.30am Tuesday 9 May and we will be home by 5.30pm on Wednesday 10 May. Ken and Jo are leaving a few hours after us and continuing their holiday for another 3 weeks – to Italy, Switzerland, Berlin and Hamburg. As with our earlier times with Andy, it has been great fun getting to know Barcelona together. Very easy and companionable.