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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
Email: [email protected] / Phone: +44 7429 011000

In order to become one of the most famous architects in European history it would take Antoni Gaudi many years of study and technical development in order to create an oeuvre which continues to dominate the Barcelona skyline. This biography outlines the key moments in his lifetime.

There are few artists to have been as passionate and devoted to their art form as Antoni Gaudi. He lived his projects in every way possible, even moving in to the studio of La Sagrada Familia in order to ensure his own levels of quality were matched by those assisting on the project. Most architects would stop at the point of planning the dimensions of the rooms and ensuring the external facades were as they intended - this would never be enough for a design obsessive like Gaudi, who would also involve himself directly in the contents of each room, drawing on his own knowledge and expertise in interior design, furniture and other decorative disciplines. His strength of character would persuade many to allow him the freedom that he required in order to produce buildings that continue to dominate the cultural experience to be enjoyed in the vibrant city of Barcelona.

The role played by Gaudi in promoting the artistic and cultural qualities of the Catalan region cannot be overstated. There have been some extraordinary artists to have come from this colourful and exciting part of Spain, but in terms of architecture, he is truly dominant. Others notable names who helped to strengthen this unique area's oeuvre from the 19th and 20th centuries include Joan Miro, Salvador Dali and Joaquín Sorolla. There is a special atmosphere to this region within Spain, perhaps similar to Bavaria within Germany or the qualities of Tuscany within Italy. Few national provinces have been as productive and innovative as Catalonia and it's brilliance within art is still continuing to be strong today.

Antoni Gaudi's Childhood and Early Life

Antoni Gaudí was one of five children, two of whom sadly did not live into adulthood, such were the times in the mid-19th century. Rosa and Francesc were his siblings, with Antoni being the youngest. His parents were Francesc Gaudí i Serra and Antònia Cornet i Bertran, with his father being the only family relation to make it into the 20th century. His family was distinctly working class, with geographical roots in the South of France. It was rare at this time for an artist or architect to achieve success from modest beginnings, such was the necessity to provide for oneself and your family almost immediately. Additionally, as a young student he was to experience health problems that would place another impediment in front of him, but this strong willed character would overcome any hurdles placed in front of his ultimate passion - architecture. You can read more on Gaudi's early life and childhood here.

Antoni Gaudi as a Student

Gaudi and his brother were destined to raise their family's profile from that of coppersmiths to more educated, middle-class disciplines. Antoni and Francesc moved to the city of Barcelona in order to pursue their dreams, with his brother seeking a career in medicine. They lodged together in some budget accomodation though these were some of their best years, living away from their parents with each other for company and support. The city itself also offered a variety of temptations to these young men though they managed to remain committed to their original intentions. Having arrived in 1868, it would take 6 years before the budding creative would eventually earn his place at the School of Architecture. He produced drawings for Josep Fontserè in order to cover the costs of his education. After four years Gaudi had now become a qualified architect. Discover more about Gaudi's studies as a student here.

Gaudi's Early Years as an Architect

Having started professional work during his own studies, it would be a slightly smoother transition into his career for Gaudi than might otherwise have been the case. He made use of his existing contacts to continue his development after receiving his qualifications. Despite that it would be five years until his first project plans were ready. Casa Vicens was a private commission for Manuel Vicens i Montaner and in 1883 he also received a number of other notable requests which marked the true birth of his professional career. He also received some projects related to religious institutions which fitted perfectly with his own beliefs that his style was an adaption of God's own work in the natural world. The early years of his career are tackled in greater detail here along with information on his first major architecture projects.

The Mature Period of Antoni Gaudi

The rise of Antoni Gaudi coincided with considerable changes within the city of Barcelona. It was suddenly developing at a rapid pace, meaning respected architects were in great demand. He was fortunate to have the support of the wealthy businessman, Eusebi Güell, who provided him with a steady stream of work and allowed him considerable scope to flex his creative muscles. Gaudi was a particularly strong-willed individual who would be hard for some to work with, but these two forged a highly successful partnership during the peak of the architect's powers. On the other hand, it was also highly fortunate for the city of Barcelona that during a period of massive architectural overhaul that they were able to call upon the services of someone who was just as innovative as he was technically savvy. Perhaps in a similar way to how the papal states of Italy would compete through ever more impressive architecture, some of the richer figures in Barcelona would challenge each other with new and exciting building work across the city.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that his mature period only took in the streets of Barcelona. As his reputation started to grow outside of the Catalan region, he would also take on other commissions elsewhere. León, for example, offered him work for the Episcopal Palace of Astorga and Casa Botines. There was also further work in a small town by the name of Garraf. Despite the frequency of requests, Gaudi's strong work ethic and incredible enthusiasm was enough to keep up with most demands that came his way. Within Barcelona he also completed Güell Palace, Park Güell, the Teresian College and Casa Calvet at around the same time. Gaudi had now reached the pinnacle of his career, both in terms of critical acclaim but also in terms of development, both technically and creatively. As we entered the 20th century there would be some of the artist's biggest highlights, such as La Pedrera-Casa Milá, Casa Batlló and the Crypt of the Colonia Güell. It seemed nothing could curtail the impact of this extraordinary architect.

Highlights of Gaudi's Career

Discover our summary of his career with our selection of the ten most famous Gaudi buildings.

The Death of Antoni Gaudi

An accidental collision with a tram would ultimately deprive the world of any more architectural genius from Gaudi. He lasted in care for several days before passing on the 10th of June, 1926. He was aged 74 and out lived most of his family. The cause of his death, ultimately, was predominantly old age, exacerbated by the accident which left him with concussion and broken ribs. A most fitting end to his life was his burial at the Chapel of Carmen, in the crypt of the Sagrada Familia. The funeral was completed on the 12th of the month, just two days after his death. To be buried in the grounds of the project for which he remains most famous, is both entirely apt but also provides a beautiful closure to the genius' life and career. Gaudi's death is addressed in more detail here.

Antoni Gaudi's Legacy

Gaudi is one of a number of famous artists whose reputation has fluctuated over time, despite the clear brilliance of his career. Initially after his death there was a movement towards other styles of architecture which left some critics treating his own style with disdain. The present day has certainly corrected this imbalance, where there is a far greater acceptance of different approaches. The popularity of the city of Barcelona has also helped to strengthen the interest and exposure into his career oeuvre. Discover more information on Gaudi's legacy here.