Among the many pleasures of visiting Spain, art lovers especially revel in the ability to witness a millennium’s worth of the world’s greatest masterpieces as they explore the treasures of Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Guggenheim Bilbao. When you explore Spain with Discovery Tours, you’ll be in the lands of Picasso, Goya, and Velazquez, native sons whose fame reached well beyond their home country.
But two other masters stand out—Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali—and complete our list of Spain’s Top 5 acclaimed artists. One was an architect and one a painter, and their work seems dissimilar at a glance. But Gaudi’s influence on Dali, and the fact that both created work that broke the mold, link them in art history as Spain’s rebellious faces of modernity.
Gaudi: The Singular Saint
Born in 1852, Gaudi was part of the Modernistas, Catalan modernists who believed art played two roles: it was a way to defy bourgeois conformity and it was an outlet for creating change in society. Gaudi created works that elevated the influence of nature in the man-made, reflected his faith, and defied rules of symmetry and restraint that had previously defined good taste.
He studied architecture but never managed to impress his teachers. He had the last laugh, as he designed the otherworldly Sagrada Familia Cathedral (a work still in progress!), the vividly tiled Parc Guell, countless mansions, and even the ornate signature streetlamps of Barcelona. Seven of his creations are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Unfortunately, his face was not as easily recognized as his buildings. In 1926, after he was struck by a streetcar, he was mistaken for a beggar, and couldn’t convince a taxi to take him to the hospital. When a policeman finally removed him from the scene, he was left at the pauper’s ward, and his friends couldn’t find him till the next day—when he refused to be moved to better conditions, as a display of solidarity with the poor.
He died there a few days later, and the outpouring of grief was profound: it was reported that half of Barcelona’s citizenry donned black and took to the streets on the day of his funeral.
Dali: The Surreal View
Salvador Dali was born a half century after Gaudi, and by the time he was studying art, the influence of the modernistas was waning. Expelled from art school, he threw himself into experimenting with Cubism and Dadaism, and met kindred spirits in Miro and Picasso. It was in Surrealism, a movement which revived and reframed the values of the modernistas, that he found his visual language.
With the melting clocks of his most famous work, “The Persistence of Memory,” he put surrealism on the global map, joining the pantheon of Spanish masters. He was exhibited in Paris and New York and beyond, and held a special affinity for the US, living in the states during World War II, working on a scene for Albert Hitchcock, and even appearing in a US film commercial.
His time away from his native Spain allowed him to escape controversy at home. Dali was a staunch supporter of fascist leader General Francisco Franco, who he said brought “clarity, truth and order” to Spain. Despite the limited success of his painting in the final decades of his life, he was indeed seen as one of the most important artists of the century.
A few years before he died, Dali was asked to write the foreword to a biography of Gaudi. In doing so, he paid tribute not only to his predecessor but to his own work, and he wasn’t a bit modest in his assessment. He wrote, “Gaudi is a genius; so am I.”