Afternoon Tea at Sant Lluc

A few steps away from Santa Caterina Market, tucked away up the narrow street of Mercaders, there’s a Gothic-like looking palace hosting a place full of history and creativity: Sant Lluc, artists’ circle.

The entrance is through a patio and then, as in the case of most Gothic palace, a staircase leads to the main floor. Sant Lluc houses a small but significant collection of Modernista art, an exhibition space, painting studios and a cafe.

The cafe is quiet around 4 pm but might get pretty busy after 6. The spaces where artists come to work or for their drawing sessions are not open to public. But many of them come for a drink in the cafe, so there’s a big change you see them here, chatting, reading or finishing a sketch.

The café is open to public and I don’t think there any other place in Barcelona where you can have your tea while admiring Joan Mirós or Subirachs drawings on the walls. As you may already know, Catalan sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs is the author of the sculptures on the newer façade of the Sagrada Familia, the Passion Façade. In 1986 when he was chosen to continue Gaudí’s work, he was already Catalonia’s best-known sculptor. In nearly 20 years, Subirachs carved 100 stone figures and made 4 vast bronze doors for the church’s west facade.

And speaking of the Sagrada, here in the café there’s also a restored model of one of the windows of the church, a nicely detailed model of over one metre height, sitting right next to the photo of its creator, Antoni Gaudí, who was also a member of the Sant Lluc circle.

In two years since I’ve found this place, it has become one of my favourite for going in the afternoon and enjoying something sweet (like this tasty blueberry tart) with a tea – they have a generous selection of teas and infusions from the Tea Shop.

There are temporary exhibitions organised here all year round. I am glad I saw this one – black and white photos of the 50’s and the 60’s, by Catalan photographer Ricard Duran i Bargalló – portraits and daily life scenes of Barcelona and its surroundings.

The Artists Circle of Sant Lluc was born in 1893, founded by some of the most important names of the times, among which Joan LlimonaJosep LlimonaAntoni Utrillo, or Alexandre de Riquer, the one who also designed the Circle’s 1899 poster which became its visual identity. 

Alexandre de Riquer’s poster is reproduced in this stained glass work displayed at the entrance in the Circle.

Inspired by English pre-Raphaelites, the Llucs aspired to create a community of artists who understood art as a true mission with a religious connotation, and decided to trust the moral guide of the entity bishop-to-be Josep Torras i Bages. So, despite having welcomed the best representatives of Modernist art and architecture – Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Gaspar Homar, Josep Llimona, Eusebi Arnau, the Masriera brothers – Sant Lluc is identified with the Noucentista project, or the cultural current opposed to Modernism.

19th century ideologist Eugeni d’Ors is also active partner of the Circle in the beginning of the new century. Joan Miró, Sebastià Gasch, Joan Prats and other artists without religious commitment also attended drawing classes here. In July 1936, Sant Lluc is forced to close doors for its confessional origins and reopens in 1951. After some decades of ups and downs in 2013, the City Council of Barcelona recognizes the work of the Circle with the gold medal for the cultural merit of the city. The Mercader Palace, reformed and extended throughout history from the 13th to the 18th century, was rehabilitated in 2005-200 8 and was officially opened in 2009 as the headquarters of Sant Lluc.

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