Antonio Gaudi was a unique architectural talent, not easily compared with other architects in the terms used by architectural historians. Not only was his work strongly individualized, but Antonio Gaudi was fortunate to have loyal clients to support him. From early in his career, wide attention was given to his work, although Antonio Gaudi shunned publicity.
Antonio Gaudi has been indentified with the catalan Modernismo moevement of the late nineteenth century and, by extension with the international art nouveau style. His strong personality drew like-minded people of talent to him, and the collaboration of structural engineers, sculptors, and metalworkers was needed to carry out his ideas. It is often possible to identify the artists and engineers involved.
The nationalist desires of Catalonians had been a problem of long standing for Spain. By the late nineteenth century, Barcelona had developed strong trade relationships with the UK and Western Europe. The wealth created contrasted with the difficult economic times in the rest of Spain and the loss of its last possessions in the war of 1898. the artistic activity in Barcelona was supported by business clients who by their travels were well acquainted with other countries, particulary with the arts and crafts movement in the United Kingdom. The development of illustrated periodicals further spread the art news to Barcelona. The cafe Els Quatre Gats, where Picasso's early work was shown and for which Antonio Gaudi designed menus in 1899, was an example of the international influences of the time.
Antonio Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852 and attended school there and in Tarragona. Antonio Gaudi left for Barcelona in 1869 for preuniversity studies. In 1873, Antonio Gaudi was accepted at the New School of Architecture and in 1878 opened his office. His first commission, archieved through a competition, was for lampposts for the Plaza Real in Barcelona. Antonio Gaudi undertook a number of commissions for furniture and altarpieces and a showcase for gloves for the Comella firm for the Paris Exhibition of 1878. An early house commission was the Casa Vicens (1883-1885) which used polychrome tile on the exterior and in the smoking room (fumador). Another early work was the villa El Capricio at the resort area of Comillas.
One of Antonio Gaudi 's loyal clients and friends was Eusebio Güell, for whom Antonio Gaudi designed many projects. For the housing development near Barcelona, Antonio Gaudi designed his famous park (1900-1914) on a sloping site. The Park Güell extends over a market area and is supported on columns sloped to reflect the transfer of loads from the plaza above. The use of colored tile is most remarkably evident in the curving bench at the edge of the plaza. The tile work was designed by Antonio Gaudi 's collaborator, Josep Maria Jujol I Gibert (1879-1940) and is considered an important work of art. The park was left incomplete because the development project failed to attract investors, particularly with the start of World War I.
Güell's house was greatly expanded and remodeled from Antonio Gaudi 's designs from 1885 to 1890. The facades are more severe than in Antonio Gaudi 's other work, exept for the extensive wrought-iron work, the polychrome roof forms, and the principal internal event, a central space rising up through the house to the capping cupola. Drawings of sections of the palace were displayed in Paris in 1910.
Another project of Güell's was a worker's colony around his factory at Santa Coloma de Cervello. Antonio Gaudi made some designs for a chapel for colony, but it was not until 1908 that Antonio Gaudi became seriously involved in what had become a more ambitious undertaking. The design is closely related to Antonio Gaudi 's other important religious commission, the Sagrada Familia Church in Barcelona. The Colonia Güell Chapel is irregular in form, with sloping brick and stone piers supporting the flat tile vaults in the cript, which is the only completed portion. The structure evolved from structural analysis of a model, which resulted in a powerful spatial effect. The crypt was completed by 1914, but the church above was never built. The use of structural analysis to determine the forces on the columns resulted in original forms, which were modified in detail during construction.
The Casa Mila apartment house was a late example of Antonio Gaudi 's apartment house was a late example of Antonio Gaudi 's commercial design. On a corner site, the building facade is curvilinear in form and based on organic concepts. The heavy facade is tied to the floors behind. The most successful portions of the design were the roof vaults, clustered chimneys, and balcony railings designed by Jujol. This design caused much public comment, and Antonio Gaudi was forced to defend his organic forms in general terms.