1914 - January 1917


Rafael Masó Foundation

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 Secessionist Movement
The secessionist movement shook central Europe between the last decade of the nineteenth and first decade of the twentieth century. The movement can be defined as the creation of new groups of artists, designers and architects who, for aesthetic, political or commercial reasons, broke with the respective artistic associations of a traditional, corporatist and guild nature.
The Vienna Secession
The Secession movement became a model for Athenea. It was founded in 1897 by a group of painters, sculptors and architects, led, among other authors, by Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Joseph M. Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann. 
Girona in the first decade of the twentieth century had 17000 inhabitants and had some two thousand buildings. The city centre still basically coincided with the old defensive stronghold. The extremely slow process of knocking down the city walls, that for centuries had enclosed the precinct, had just started.

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.

Girona reborn
In 1912, twenty-two Girona residents of all ideological and aesthetic tendencies signed a manifesto to demand, urgently, the creation of a "temple" where science and art would be honoured. Rafael Masó greets the proclamation enthusiastically: “Girona reborn, Girona leaps into a new life […]. The miracle is that our laziness has been staunched, our apathetic chronicle has been defeated, the Girona aboulia has been dominated […]. The miracle is that Girona, the dead, has reacted.”
Masó's Honeymoon
The origin of Athenea, both the form and above the symbolic function of the building, must be sought in pre-war central European culture and architecture. The architect Rafael Masó was well informed of all the latest news about German architecture and applied arts, and he was also able to know first-hand some of their most outstanding works during the long honeymoon he had with his wife, Esperança Bru, between the 27th of January and the 17th of March 1912.

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 discoveries that he had made in Germany, apart from the enthusiasm showed in his letters, marked his work and his career until his death.

The ideal of a modern city
In Catalonia, the return to the classical paradigm also experienced resurgence, and was a fundamental component of the "Noucentista" ideology. For architects like Tessenow and Masó, or for theoreticians like Ors and Folch, the Hellerau model was the ideal of the modern city, the heir of Greek Arcadia, where the problems of the industrial metropolis and of small rural settlements bypassed by progress were to be solved.
The Athenea project
On his return to Girona, after his honeymoon trip in Darmstadt and Hellerau, Masó began one of the most fertile periods of his professional life. The idea of creating an arts center that would serve as a showcase of "Noucentista" culture in Girona was thought of either during Masó's trip, or during the months immediately after his return, as we can see with the materials and the forms that he used in the building, as well as the name, the purpose and the social class to which was adressed.

Masó carefully designed some delicate capital letters with the name of the association separated by a dot within a circle between each letter.

From this sketch of the facade we know that Masó had initially planned to crown the inter-column spaces with horseshoe arches, which he rejected in the end.

A room with a German air:
The interior of the building was notably austere. It measured 10 by 17.5 metres, and consisted of a large room which led directly to the exterior, through a small windproof door, and had a stage at the end.

The stage at the end of the room, raised 45 cm from the ground.

Masó's temple
Scholars have noted the similarity between Masó's "temple" and the symbolic image of a Greek temple that illustrates the cover of the book "Notes sobre art" (Notes on art) by Torres-García.

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.

Refined details
The symmetry of the composition and the roundness of the volumes gave it, at first sight, an imposing air, with reminiscences of archaic Doric.

But Masó knew how to avoid the anachronism with an affirmation of modernity, derived mainly from the geometric stylisation of the forms, the contention in the use of ornamental elements and, above all, the chromatic contrast.

For the pilasters, Masó designed some large tiles (30x30 cm), with a concave outline with which he achieved the fluted effect. These were decorated with the technique of the lantern with the plant motif which, connecting the tiles, simulated a stylised climbing plant.

The coatings of the pedestals combined smooth tiles (all 20x20 cm) with diverse reliefs, a curious combination of geometric motifs, animals, plants and popular religious images.

The door was covered by an embossed copper panel and crowned by a small pediment of the same material.

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.

Based on works done by Casanovas between 1914 and 1916, Teresa Camps has deduced that the sculpture for Athenea was to be similar to the one that Casanovas made for the vestibule of the Barcelona house of the collector Plandiura; or it may have been the statue that ended up in the new location.

Interior of Athenea
The room had a great deal of natural light, due to a large rectangular skylight that occupied the central part of the gabled roof. 

As a result of the inclination of the ceilings, the light from the skylight reached the side walls of the room perfectly, and here were hung the drawings and paintings of the exhibitions.

The lower part of the pillars, coinciding with skirting, was covered by glazed ceramic tiles designed by Masó himself, of a deep rusty yellow, which were also on the facade.

The School of Arts and Trades
Masó, did not stop here, and after a few months planned the enlargement, with the building that should have been the School of Arts and Trades, which two public administrations took part (the Provincial and the City Council). For a moment the architect was able to see his dream come true. Finally, in October 1916, when the works on the school were completed, a new City Council abandoned the project and decided to use the building for the girls' Normal School.
The Athenea activity
Athenea thus served both as a "temple" for the arts and a multifaceted venue, from auditorium to an exhibition room, as well as a games library and projection hall.

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.

After the opening exhibition with Catalan values, Athenea also had to show international modernity. Montsalvatje, one of the rectors of Athenea along with Masó, recovers in "Terra de gestes i beutat", the names and paintings of other foreign artists stopping by in Girona.

Athenea benefited immediately with the exhibition of the Polish artist Mela Muter, with excellent reviews. Rafael Masó thanked her for the new vision she gave to the city, because she saw "the calm jewels and the golden platitudes".

Very little is known of some local artists who exhibited in Athenea, or of the types of avant-garde art that they assimilated.

The group of caricaturists around the magazine "of art and humour" "Aigua-forts", at the head of which stands out the figure of Albert Martorell, "Max", deserve an investigation.

The puppets of "Vetlles d'Infants" (Children's Evenings), according to a hand programme of Athenea, were also the work of the young men from "Aigua-forts".

Martorell was highly gifted in drawing and graphic art, with ingenious compositions - such as the portrait of Rafael Masó with Athenea background - he is the popular counterpoint to the haughty elegance of a Fidel Aguilar.

Even though Aguilar never exhibited in Athenea, he did collaborate with drawings for the printed programmes from Christmas 1915 on, some of which have today become icons of Girona's "Noucentisme".

Only three women exhibited in Athenea. Two were foreigners, Mela Muter and Marianne de Maris, and the other, Lluïsa Botet was from Cassà - an exceptional case for the time -. The fact is that women, their new role and their responsabilities, were the object of debate at the time in the local press.

You could talk about anything in Athenea, from the role of women to other subjects like photography or vegetarianism. On occasions the conferences took on a certain political commitment, explicity or as background.

The newspaper "Diario de Gerona" of the Masó's family, naturally, is rich in reports of all activity of Athenea. Other close journalistic sources are the musical magazine Scherzando... and the already mentioned "Aigua-forts", good and allowing itself a certain critical distance at times.

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 Music of Noucentisme
The Athenea society organised forty-four musical activities. The majority were of chamber music. The two types of most usual works were that of solo piano and of soloist accompanied by piano.

The stage space was divided into two sections in depth:the first, rectangular and crossed by a simple wooden frame, and behind, smaller and trapezoidal. The form of the back was due to the acoustic characteristics.

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.

Contrary to what sometimes has been stated, the closing of Athenea after four years of full functioning may not have been due so much to economic reasons but rather as a result of political and social isolation, of which it was a victim.

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.

- 1913 - Chronology of Athenea's Events 
* When only one date is provided it corresponds to the exhibition opening or vernissage.

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

- 1914 - Chronology of Athenea's Events 
* When only one date is provided it corresponds to the exhibition opening or vernissage.

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

- 1915 - Chronology of Athenea's Events
* When only one date is provided it corresponds to the exhibition opening or vernissage.

6.1 - Benefit literary and musical festival for Belgian ex-patriots and orphans, by the Quintet Català, the singers Conxita Careaga and Roberto Piserra, the pianists Guillem Garganta and Teresa García, and the poetess Gertrudis Segovia
17.2 - Poetry reading by Miquel Ferrà

21.3/15.4 - Exhibition by Celso Lagar
5.4 - Piano concert by Paquita Madriguera
18.4/25.4 - Exhibition by Marianne Maris and Felician Myrbach

25.4 - Violin and piano concert by Joan Massià and Guillem Garganta
2.5/16.5 - Exhibition of sculptures by Esteve Monegal
23.5 - Exhibition by Albert Martorell ("Max")

13.6 - Exhibition by Bartomeu Ferrà: paintings of Mallorca
13.6 - Cello and piano concert by Aurora Bertrana, Carme Montoriol and Miquel Oliva
29.6/25.7 - Exhibition Pro Sagrada Familia

9.7 - Lecture "Our Grand Temple", by the architect Isidre Puig Boada
25.7 - Closure of the exhibition. The trio made up of Rafael Serra, Sants Sagrera and Josep Cantó performed
26.9 - Lecture "Vegetarianism and Science", by R.E. Strittmatter

15.10 - Violin, cello and piano concert by Rafael Serra, Sants Sagrera and Josep Cantó
16.10 - Exhibition of plans for the sanctuary of El Collell to celebrate the laying of the first stone

Christmas - Exhibition by Santiago Rusiñol
19.12 - Children's Puppet Evenings

26.12 - Children's Puppet Evenings
31.12 - Children's Christmas: artistic toys of a popular type, Japanese toys, etc., and final raffle

- 1916 - Chronology of Athenea's Events 
* When only one date is provided it corresponds to the exhibition opening or vernissage.

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

6.2 - Piano concert by Francesc Caselles
18.2 - New Year of the Artists Festival
5.3 - Exhibition by Antoni Badrinas
10.3 - Violin, cello and piano concert by Enric Sans, Emile Angelo and Lluís Bonaterra
18.3 - Lecture by Adrià Gual: "Tradition in National Theatre"

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

1.11 - Literary festival in homage to the prize-winning poets of the Floral Games
4.11 - Voice and piano concert by Andreua Fornells and Miquel Oliva
26.11 - Piano concert by Lluïsa Figueras
10.12 - Exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Florenci Comas, Pere Farró and R. Batlle

- 1917 - Chronology of Athenea's Events
* When only one date is provided it corresponds to the exhibition opening or vernissage.

3.1 - Lecture by Joan Llongueras, with Christmas carols performed by the singer Montserrat Galí and a choir conducted by Narcís Masó
22.3 - Exhibition by Francesc Gimeno at the Dalmau Carles school

Fundació Rafael Masó
Credits: Story

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.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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