The Temple of Noucentisme
In 1913, in Girona emerged one of the most modern and innovative cultural projects in its recent history. With the creation of the Athenea association and of the building, - on Anselm Clavé Street, that was its headquarters - a group of Girona's citizens gave the city a space of art, culture, music, dance and literature of its times. The architect Rafael Masó designed Athenea's building, drawing inspiration from as far as Darmstadt, Dresden and Vienna.
The traditional city lives mainly from trade, which has a fleeting weekly apotheosis in the Saturday market. On the right bank of the Onyar there were shops and workshops of craftsmen and artisans and, on the left bank of the river, the process of industrialisation began half a century before using the lands from the ecclesiastical confiscations and the waterfalls of the Monar irrigation canal.
In 1909 the economic life of Girona is consolidated by the opening of a branch of the "Caixa de Pensions per a la Vellesa i d’Estalvis", a pension fund savings bank, in a premises also designed by Masó, and in 1911 with the constitution of the Official Chamber of Commerce and Industry, headquartered in the historic building of the Fontana d’Or.
Girona’s public life is ruled by Catholicism. The whole year is dotted with religious festivals and acts. The consideration of Girona as a “dead city” is a palpable and clear reality. The writer Prudenci Bertrana would once again evoke this physically and morally mean and closed city, inhabited by “resigned, immobile people, impassive within their mediocrity”.
In this period political life experiences a substantial change. The traditional alternating between the traditional parties – liberal and conservative – is altered by the wear and tear of local party dominance and by the strength of the renovating parties. One of the leading members of the Lliga Regionalista who enters the council in 1914 is the lawyer Santiago Masó -brother of the architect Rafael Masó-, who is also secretary of the board of trustees of the Caixa de Pensions in Girona and who would be, later on, member of parliament in the Madrid Congress.
The architect Rafael Masó visited the colony of artists created in 1899, in the park of Mathildenhöhe, on the outskirts of the city of Darmstadt. The Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig, who knew directly the ideas and work of Morris and his Arts & Crafts project, brought together a group of artists, who would help advance arts and crafts in the region of Hesse and thus contribute to stimulating the economy of the region.
The Ernst Ludwig House, designed by Olbrich, was both a worksite and the venue for gatherings in the artists' colony, a function that Masó also used in his design for Athenea.
The entrance to the building became a central point that marks the passage between the banality of daily life and the sacred sphere of artistic creation; the wide stairway leads to a type of niche decorated with gold leaf, and is flanked by two large statues of a man and a woman that represent Strength and Beauty respectively.
The other important source of inspiration for Masó was Hellerau, a garden city built close to Dresden by Karl Schmidt. Schmidt had commissioned the architect Riemerschmidt to plan the colony, the construction of which began in 1909. In 1911, Schmidt had commissioned the architect Heinrich Tessenow to plan the Jaques-Dalcroze Institute of Dance and Rhythmic Movement, which comprised a theatre and the annexed spaces for creation and teaching, used for research into music, dance and rhythmic gymnastics promoted by the Swiss composer.
German architects, like their Catalan counterparts, were confronting the problem of the lack of a tradition for their modern nation, and in many cases the solution was classicism.
Classicism, tradition and the vernacular were therefore seen as inseparable, and this inseparability had been expressed better at Hellerau than anywhere else.
Masó chose these two photographs to illustrate his visit to the garden city, which was short but, intense:
“All of this is exceptional and I’m going to explain it in detail when I get to Girona. We’ve met everyone: the director of the Institute, painters and artists from there and J.Dalcroze himself, thanks to Llongueras, who couldn’t be more impressed. […] "
"[...]Before the Institute we visited a very important furniture factory in Hellerau. We saw beautiful things and what delighted us especially were the complete houses that this factory has set up so that buyers and visitors can see them. The other postcard is a view of one of the rooms of these houses and it’s extraordinarily beautiful! We saw it and we can testify to it. You’ll see how many things we’ve picked up here to apply them at home.”
The exterior of Athenea, in the words of art critic Folch i Torres, was "the most original". Masó, just like Tessenow, conceived the facade as that of a classical temple but introducing materials and techniques of the vernacular tradition, above all the glazed ceramics made expressly in a ceramics factory established by Masó himself.
Unfortunately, some of the decorative elements of the facade were never made, Joan B. Coromina was to make in November of 1913 a medallion with the head of Athenea for the pediment over the door and, in 1914, the sculptor Enric Casanovas was to make, in the words of Eugeni d'Ors, a "little Teresian statue" for the niche in the pediment.
In the opening exhibition, in 1913, there were blessed "Noucentistes", such as Josep Aragay or Joaquim Torres-García; young hopefuls that joined the movement, such as Martí Gimeno or Francesc Vayreda; but there were also heavyweights of "Modernista" visual arts, such as Joaquim Mir or the Llimona brothers.
The magazine "Cultura", was not particulary close, as if local matters were distant to it and the fortnightly "tragic-metaphysical Les Voltes", they were allowed the luxury of being more direct and cruel, satirising Athenea and its concerts. They were even harsher in "La Veu de Girona" when the "Noucentista" society collapsed, accusing it of being partisan and excluding.
As Tarrús and Comadira point out, the second generation of Girona's "Noucentistes" would not be explained without Athenea. The process of the foundation of the "Ateneu de Girona" in 1922 was very similar: initial manifesto by a group of involved people, founding in a premises and development of a series of very similar activities.
The repertoire was often works by romantic authors, and the most usual were Beethoven, Wagner and Mendelssohn. In the case of Beethoven, the symbolic filiation with the composer from Bonn was explicit in the reproduction of his death mask that presided over the stage, centred in the upper external frame.
On the founding of Athenea, Antoni Juncà took on the post of member for music within the society's governing body.He was also the driving force behind the first symphonic orchestra of Girona, the "Societat Gironina de Concerts", which gave two concerts in the setting of the events organised by Athenea.
The history of the School was indeed most unfortunate. In a few years the local, national and international political context changed dramatically, and not exactly in Masó's favour. If in 1913 everything that came from the centre of Europe was exemplary, within four years any suspicion of admiring German culture was seen as treason, but even more considered the antithesis of modernity.
The old premises were used as the Normal School of Teachers from the 1917-18 academic course until 1965. A decade went by of abandonment and destruction: in 1971 the part of the school facing Gran Via Jaume I was demolished, and in the first week of June 1975 the rest was knocked down, that is, the original building of Athenea and what remained of the school in Anselm Clavé Street.
27.6 - Opening vernissage: Performance by the Quartet of the Acadèmia Musical Gerundense
27.6/20.7 - Opening Exhibition: Contemporany painting and sculpture
28.6 - Opening Concert by the Quartet of the Acadèmia Musical Gerundense
12.7 - Piano concert by Maria Candelaria Bassols
29.7 - Concert by the Quintet Català
17.8 - Lecture by Joan Llongueras: The Rhythmic Gymnastics of Prof. Jaques-Dalcroze
1.10 - Concert by the Quintet Català
9.10 - Concert by Segola and Miquel Oliva
Fairs - Ancient Japanese Art, lecture by Farriols
29.10 - Concert dedicated to Juli Garreta by the Principal de la Bisbal Orchestra
16.11 - Piano concert by Anna March
3.12 - Reading by the poet Joaquín Montaner
17.12 - Reading of "Auques i ventalls" by Josep Carner
20.12 - Exhibition by Manuel Roqueta and piano concert by Dolors Benaiges de Aris
22.1/1.2 - Exhibition by Pere Torné Esquius
30.1 - Lecture by Josep Puig i Cadafalch: The excavations of Empúries
8.2/19.2 - Exhibition and sale of engravings, ceramics and other antiques
5.3/13.4 - Exhibition of old Girona painting, 15th-17th centuries
1.3 - Opening vernissage. A trio should have played, but cancelled at the last minute
8.3 - Lecture by Father Josep Gudiol: The Ornaments of the Altar Before the 14th Century
15.3 - Lecture by Father Llorenç Riber about his translation of the "Aeneid"
16.3 - Concert by Josep Ricart and Carme Matas
20.3 - Lecture by Guillem Busquets: "The Modern Developments in England. Garden Cities"
29.3 - Lecture by M.Langlois du Feu about physical culture
1.4 - Lecture by Joan Llongueras in the Teatre Municipal: "The Rhythmic Gymnastics of Prof. Dr. E. Jaques-Dalcroze. How we should understand it and how we must establish it"
5.4 - Lecture by P. Bertrana
13.4 - Piano concert dedicated to Beethoven's sonatas by Joan Gibert Camins. Adjourned with no record that it was performed
18.4 - Concert dedicated to Mendelssohn by the Massalleras quintet
1.5 - Cello and piano concert by Sants Sagrera and Tomàs Mollera
24.5 - Exhibition by Mela Muter
28.5 - Piano and violin concert by Josep M. Dalmau and Tomàs Mollera
30.5 - Lecture by the photographer Adolf Mas
June - Exhibition by Francesc Vayreda and Ignasi Mallol
9.8 - Violin and piano concert by Alfred Quer and Miquel Oliva
14.8/23.8 - Exhibition of the poster competition for the Luna chocolates by Xocolates Amatller
17.10 - Cello and piano concert by the brothers Bernardí and Rafael Gálvez
29.10/2.11 - Fairs: Exhibition by Lluïsa Botet and by Father Josep Gelabert
29.10 - Concert by the Català quintet
1.11 - Reading of the "Llibre d'epigrames by Josep M. López-Picó", by the author himself
3.11 - Exhibition by lu Pasqual
4.11 - Concert by Andreua Fornells, Josep M.Dalmau and Tomàs Mollera
29.11 - Caricature Exhibition: artists from the magazine "Aigua-forts"
4.12 - Lecture by Ivon l'Escop: The Culture of Women:Their Influence on the Family and Society
6.12 - Lecture by M.Furest about the waters of Girona
20.12 - Concert by the Quintet Català
6.1 - Exhibition of the Magic Kings Chinese lantern competition
7.1 - Puppets. Magic Kings session organised by the teacher Carme Auguet
8.1 - Pianola audition for Casa Paul Izabal
9.1 - Pianola audition for Casa Paul Izabal
16.1 - Children's Puppet Evenings
23.1 - Children's Puppet Evenings
30.1 - Children's Puppet Evenings
18.3 - Representation of "Els pobres menestrals" by Adrià Gual and of "Erwin und Elmire" by Goethe in the Teatre Municipal, by the Escola Catalana d'Art Dramàtic
25.3 - Lecture by Joaquim Pecanins about traditional Catalan songs
26.4 - Guitar concert by Joan Parra
13.4 - Concert by the pupils of Dolors Jordà
28.4 - Concert by the orchestra of the Societat Gironina de Concerts in the Teatre Municipal
30.4 - Exhibition by Martí Gimeno
10.5 - Concert by the orchestra of the Societat Gironina de Concerts in the Teatre Municipal
7.5 - Children's Puppet Evenings
14.5 - Children's Puppet Evenings
1.6/18.6 - Exhibition by lu Pascual and Xavier Nogués
12.6 - Children's Puppet Evenings
18.6 - Children's Puppet Evenings
22.6/9.7 - Exhibition by F. Masriera and S. Matamala, painting and sculpture
29.6 - Violin and piano concert by Enric Roig and Jaume Quintana
23.7 - Exhibition of the projects for the monument dedicated to the heroines of Santa Bàrbara. Simultaneous exhibition of recent works by the painter Francesc Gimeno
28.7 - Lecture by Josep Maria Valls about "The Work of the Girona Provincial Council"
15.10 - Violin and piano concert by Ernest Grau and Miquel Oliva
28.10/6.11 - Exhibition the Hungarian painter Zsigmond de Nagy
28.10 - Lecture about Richard Strauss' "Don Quixote". Musicals examples on piano duet performed by Marià Vinyals and Jaume Rovira
Images provided by
Arxiu Històric del Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya-Demarcació de Girona (AHCOACDemGirona)
Biblioteca Pública de Girona
Centre de Recerca i Difusió de la Imatge (CRDI), Ajuntament de Girona
Família Montsalvatge, Girona
Fundació Rafael Masó
Generalitat de Catalunya
Hereus de Josep Masó i Bru, Girona
INSPAI, Centre de la Imatge de la Diputació de Girona
Joaquim Rabaseda, Girona
Museu d'Història de Girona, Ajuntament de Girona
Museu Municipal Josep Aragay, Ajuntament de Breda
Narcís-Jordi Aragó, Girona
This exhibition was curated by Jordi Falgàs and Rosa M. Gil at Casa Masó, Girona, and produced by the Fundació Rafael Masó. The online presentation was curated by Cristina Pinsach.
The Fundació Rafael Masó is supported by Ajuntament de Girona, Col·legi d'Arquitectes de Catalunya-Demarcació de Girona, Col·legi d'Aparelladors Arquitectes Tècnics i Enginyers d'Edificació de Girona, Universitat de Girona, and the Masó and Aragó families.