It began life as a family home, and it is immediately evident to visitors that this was a family with exceptional tastes. With the first step into the freshly restored hallway of the Modernista Casa Garriga Nogués, they find themselves confronted by a sweeping marble staircase, bathed in subtle light from a stained-glass dome. The effect is both dramatic and delicate, provoking a moment of contemplation that transports visitors to another, more confident age.
The magnificent building was constructed for the Garriga Nogués family by the architect Enric Sagnier i Villavechia between 1899 and 1905 in the heart of the Eixample, and was later home to a school and to the offices of the Encyclopaedia Catalana. There are other architectural treasures hidden away behind doors throughout the centre of Barcelona, and each of them have their own tales to tell, but what makes this particular one unique is that it has now been renovated to house one of Spain’s most significant private art collections; a collection that has its own fascinating history.
Flashback to the Fifties, and post-Civil War Spain. As Franco tightened his grip on the country, a Catalan playboy was indulging his obsession with fast cars and the high life provided by his privileged position as a successful businessman in the booming construction industry. But there was more to Francisco Godia than first met the eye: in his time out from running his business affairs and racing cars around the world, the young entrepreneur was quietly acquiring an extraordinary collection of art, scouring antique dealers for old Romanesque and Gothic artefacts and using his network of agents to identify and purchase paintings by some of the most significant artistic innovators of the 19th and 20th centuries. Godia’s collecting habit formed part of a long tradition of those who used their wealth to procure culture, but his obsession with art went beyond the urge to have something impressive to hang on his dining-room wall. His collecting was voracious, and did not follow the dictates of contemporary fashion, instead relying on something that was much more rare among his contemporaries: his own taste.
The result today is the Francisco Godia Foundation, which houses a uniquely eclectic collection of art, ranging from medieval and Baroque sculpture and painting to 19th- and 20th-century works, including pieces by Picasso, Miró, Tàpies and Barceló, as well as a wide range of ceramics from different areas and periods. Sara Puig, the director of the Fundació Francisco Godia, defines the collection as “encyclopaedic”. Indeed, the museum is like a volume on the history of art, each room a brief chapter that describes different historical artistic moments. The collection is hung chronologically, giving visitors the opportunity to pass quickly through a thousand years of art, as angular Romanesque crucifixions mutate into Gothic tableaux, 17th-century still lifes give way to 19th-century landscapes, which quickly fracture into Cubist experiments. The exhibition at the Francisco Godia Foundation is a prime example of the benefits of the private collection, unencumbered by ‘stand-out’ pieces, finely balanced and much easier to manage than the large, reiterative collections characteristic of a publicly-funded museum. Francisco Godia was guided solely by a love of the quality and authenticity in the work he was collecting, according to Sara Puig. But, in many ways, his ability to create such a unique collection is testament to his personality and sense of risk. “When Francisco stopped racing, he took up serious collecting with the same velocity and determination that he showed as a Formula 1 driver,” said Puig. When Godia died in 1990, his daughter Liliana took the baton from her father, further expanding the collection with new acquisitions that filled in some of the few remaining gaps. The Fundació Francisco Godia was created in 1998 and opened to the public in 1999, ensuring that the Godia collection would remain intact for future generations. Now, with this move to a new, specifically adapted exhibition space, it is finally possible to truly appreciate the scale and quality of Francisco and Liliana Godia’s achievement in bringing this extraordinary group of works together.
The new museum is unique, a building designed for living that has been adapted for another purpose: the contemplation of art. After extensive restoration to recover many lost features, the building maintains the aura of the bourgeois home it once was, including a beautifully conserved rococo music room, the family’s large salon for entertaining guests and the billiards room flanked by two imposing stained-glass windows.
Re-hung in the 2,700 square metres of the first two floors of the Casa Garriga Nogués, the Godia collection now has room to breathe, and the curators have had the opportunity to explore the art within a new context. The challenge of the renovation was to respect the architectural integrity of the original building, while providing a modern exhibition space suitable for displaying the art, according to Sara Puig. The architects, led by Jordi Garcés, have managed to get this balancing act right: the building is, itself, a grand artistic expression, which never overshadows the art it contains. The architects have managed to integrate the different spaces provided by the house into a double tour of the collection: the first is circular, around the stairway—where the fantastic collection of Spanish 19th-century art has been placed—the other linear, a walk through the different rooms, some of which give way to hidden corners where the visitor can face the art in an intimate moment of contemplation.
Now that the Francisco Godia collection has found an ideal space to be shown, its future is to “keep filling in the gaps,” said Puig. Even a collection like this is never truly ‘complete’—a good collection is organic and keeps growing, reflecting that art is an endeavour that is always moving forward.
To highlight this, the Fundació commissioned the Spanish sculptor Cristina Iglesias to celebrate the opening of the new building with a new piece for the patio of the Casa Garriga Nogués. Iglesias’s contribution is both “a sculpture and an architectural intervention, a free interpretation of the possibilities of the patio space that comments on the original vision of the Eixample,” according to Puig.
She also noted that there is something pleasingly circular about the fact that the newest addition to this historic collection is by a young Spanish sculptor, as Francisco Godia’s first acquisitions were of contemporary Spanish sculpture. Wherever he is now, Francisco Godia is surely looking down on his collection, now magnificently re-housed, with an immense smile of satisfaction.
Fundació Francisco Godia, (Casa Garriga Nogués), Diputació 250; Tel. 93 272 3180; www.fundacionfgodia.org