On the trail of Gaudí – Palau Güell

Antoni Gaudí was one of the Art Nouveau representatives that had left his marks all over Catalan, in particular Barcelona. One of his patron was the Industrialist Count Euseli Güell, whom commissioned Gaudí to build the Güell family home called Palau Güell or Palace Güell.

Palau Güell

Palau Güell (1886-1890) is a magnificent example of domestic architecture in the context of Art Nouveau. It was the home of the Güell i López family until they moved to Park Güell. Palau Güell was one of the first important commissions Antoni Gaudí received at the start of his career. Eusebi Güell (industrialist, politician and patron of the arts) wanted Gaudí to build him this peculiar urban palace as an extension of the family home on La Rambla. 

The conch shell pattern on the wrought iron front gates

Gaudí designed a functional palatial residence adapted to the family’s needs in both their private life and the intense cultural and social life they led.

The Facades

The main and rear facades of Palau Güell, made from a variety of materials (stone, iron, wood and vitrified tile), hide its sumptuous interior.

The main facade features two parabolic entrance arches closed by two huge wrought iron gates with the owner initials E and G These gates are the work of ironworker Joan Oñós, who created them in 1889. Wrought iron was also used on the outer railings of the windows and the coat of arms of Catalonia, crowned by a helmet with a phoenix. OK, it is not the Oriental image of phoenix.

Built entirely of Garraf limestone, this facade is divided into three levels, interrupted on the right-hand side to blend with the house next door. On the first two levels the stone is saw cut and polished, not so on level three, where it was treated with a punch.

On level two, the main floor’s bay window projects over the street.

The rear facade of Palau Güell, which looks onto the block’s inner courtyard, features a bay window with folding shutters. The lower part of this bay window is tiled. Built of punched Garraf limestone, the rear facade is divided into two levels, differentiated by a stone ledge. Above the bay window is the balcony of the parents’ bedrooms, covered by an unusual brise-soleil or sun baffle. 

The Basement

The basement of Palau Güell was formerly the stable. Access was from the ground floor via two entrances: a gentle ramp which the horses went up and down and a steep cobbled spiral ramp which the people used.

Palau Güell stable in the building’s basement are noteworthy for their brick columns with mushroom-shaped capitals and vaulted ceiling. 

The stable originally contained individual horse stalls with mangers. The rooms of the coachman (who drove the horse-drawn carriages) and the stable boy were here too.

It was also used to store wood, coal and straw, and there was a well and a tank (for storing rainwater). The basement also has a courtyard which airs the stable, where the horses were allowed out in the open air. Rainwater was collected here.

The Ground Floor

Entrance to Palau Güell was through double doors from the street. The doorman and coachman services were carried out from the ground floor. Specifically, on this floor were: the coach house where the carriages were kept; a storage area for farming products; the doorman’s quarters (linked directly to the stable by a spiral staircase); a booth from which the doorman could watch the street, and a servants’ staircase that led from the ground floor to the Palau’s other floors.

This vestibule is noteworthy for its marble walls, floor and ceiling.

It leads to the main floor via a magnificent stone staircase. The staircase features a fabulous coffered ceiling and the original lamp from when the Güell family lived here.

The Main Floor

Once we reach the main floor, the building starts to resemble a palace. The rooms on this floor are on either side of the central hall, which is as high as the building.

The Antechamber

The antechamber is the entrance to the main floor. Noteworthy are the stained glass windows comprising glass friezes and lead plate that combine oval and square medallions inspired by English designs.

The Hall of Lost Steps

This was a room visitors passed through to get to the central hall. A noteworthy feature is the arcade that leads to a gallery that overlooks the street and provides plenty of light.

The Visitor’s Room

The visitors’ room was where visitors waited before entering the central hall. Noteworthy is the ceiling, made from fine woods with wrought iron and gold leaf details. Also remarkable are the stained glass windows featuring characters from Shakespeare.

Adjoining the visitors’ room is the powder room, used by female guests at the soirées and concerts given by the Güell family. At the time the Güell family lived in the Palace, the walls of the reception room and ladies’ powder room were covered in damask and contained pieces of furniture, paintings and objets d’art.

The Dining Room, Billiard Room

The Güell family dining room preserves the original dining table and twelve chairs used by the family, and a walnut fireplace designed by Camil Oliveras. Also noteworthy are the wooden dado rails around the walls, decorated with animals of an oriental influence, by the same architect. The dining room is separated from the bay window room by a partition made of wood and wrought iron of Arab inspiration.

The Billiard Room

This room was used as a billiard room and as a studio for sculpting and painting by the Güell children, particularly Maria Lluïsa Güell i López (who became a painter and took part in the first exhibition open to women in 1896 at the Sala Parés, the most prestigious art gallery in Barcelona at that time).

The Hall of the Intimates and Smoking Room

This family room was for gatherings and conversation with the closest friends. It was also a place where the Güell daughters practiced the piano and gave concerts.

This room features etched glass windows representing a fragment of a painting by Manuel Ferran, author who several portraits were commissioned by the Güell family.

Separated from the hall of intimates by a partition is the bay window room, which has a gallery with ten windows overlooking the inner courtyard. Also called the smoking room, it was a quiet corner in which to read and while away the time.

It has an original bench designed by Gaudí that adapts to the bay window’s rounded shape. It is likely that at certain times of the year or on special days this was joined with the dining room.

The Central Hall

This hall is crowned by a parabolic dome, which lights the whole space through a series of small openings and a large central oculus. 

From an original and intelligent solution, the central hall becomes the backbone around which the space of the building is configured, and at the same time is an area of vertical relationships—musical and visual—with the floors above.

Thus when concerts were held here, visitors sat on the hall level with the organ keyboard; the orchestra was on the mezzanine floor above; above that, the singers, and above them the organ pipes. This meant the music emerged from all around, a totally Wagnerian concept.

 Palau Güell also hosted religious services. The closet-chapel, in the central hall, is a small room closed off by two large doors that, when opened, revealed the altar.

The hall also contains four oil paintings by Aleix Clapés.

The Mezzanine

The mezzanine floor, between the main floor and the floor where the bedrooms were located, is where we find the balcony or minstrels’ gallery where the musicians sat for concerts. The main Palau Güell kitchen used to be on this floor. It had a dumbwaiter, which is still in existence, to the dining room on the main floor. Also on this floor were other service rooms, such as the organ bellows room.

The Bedroom Floor

This floor was used only by the family and contained the parents’ and children’s bedrooms and the bathroom. The whole floor is laid out around an ambulatory, a windowed gallery overlooking the central hall.

Hall of the Intimates

Everything was removed from the hall, only the very ornately decorated fireplace remains today.

Isabel López and Eusebi Güell’s Bedroom

Isabel López‘s bedroom features a wrought iron arabesque and gold decoration on the columns. It has a dressing room and a small hidden loggia which overlooks the central hall. 

Eusebi Güell‘s room also has a loggia overlooking the central hall, and a dressing room. Both bedrooms have a fireplace designed by Gaudí.

The Children’s Rooms

This bedroom was where the Güell children slept. Notable is the fireplace and the balcony that overlooks the street. Like many others, this bedroom had a dressing room. The rooms are used for the period furniture exhibition. There is an adjoining, smaller, bedroom that belonged to the eldest daughter, Isabel Güell i López, who was a piano and organ player and a composer. This room contains a stained glass window depicting Macbeth and Hamlet.

This painting in the Central Hall is said to be a painting of the mistress of the house with her children.

The Bathroom

In this area we find the bathroom, which originally had two bathtubs and a black marble fireplace (which remains today). The bathroom features some original flooring. The bathroom has a washbasin and two toilets in separate cubicles.

A comparison of the servant’s staircase vs the master’s staircase.

The Rooftop

The roof is one of Palau Güell’s magical corners and is outstanding for its twenty chimneys and central spire, which is 15 metres high.

On the roof of Palau Güell, Gaudí turned traditional chimneys into genuine sculptures, with bases, stacks and caps in fantastic shapes. There are twenty chimneys altogether.

In the middle of them is the 15-metre high spire, which tops the dome of the central hall and is covered in an original recycled stone.

The chimneys and conical vents resemble small fir trees, probably represents one of the first sketches – but already the work of a great master – of what would reach the perfection, as functional and ornamental element at the same time. In this work, Gaudí used the “trencadis” for the first time.

At the last major restoration of the building between 1983-1997, supervised by Antoni González Moreno, included a reinterpretation of the chimneys and vents by a diverse selection of artists. Only one chimney is conserved with the original trencadis of Gaudí.

Reportedly on one occasion Gaudí said to Güell, “Sometimes I think we are the only people who like this architecture.” Güell replied, “I don’t like your architecture, I respect it.”

Palau Güell: A Look at Furniture

“Palau Güell: A Look at Furniture” is a permanent exhibition situated on the bedroom floor, which is integrated into the visit of the Palace. When visiting the children’s rooms you get to see the original furniture that decorated the Palace when the Güell family lived there. The collection includes as well some ‘Modernisme’ furniture owned by Barcelona Provincial Council (Diputació de Barcelona)

The exhibition is divided in two areas: “The Güell family decor” and “The interior designers of Modernisme“, both belonging to the main periods of the building. The first, when Eusebi Güell and his familiy were living here; the second, when it passed to the Barcelona Provincial Council in 1945 and became a center of vindication of Gaudí and Catalan Modernisme. During this period were compiled many pieces form the main cabinetmakers and furniture decorators of the time.

Gaudí and Barcelona

Seven buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926) in Barcelona or its surrounding area were included in the World Heritage List in 1984 and 2005. These buildings bear witness to the exceptional contribution of Gaudí’s creations to the evolution of the architecture and construction techniques in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They are the expression of an eclectic and very personal style that their creator employed not only in architecture, but also in gardening, sculpture and many other decorative arts.

The seven buildings are: Park Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, Gaudí’s work on the Sagrada Família’s Nativity façade and crypt, Casa Batlló and the Colònia Güell crypt.

Visited Aug 2018

1 comment on “On the trail of Gaudí – Palau Güell

  1. What a beautiful and colourful virtual tour! Thanks for reminding me this special place. Bye. Kamila

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