HOW A PENSIVE BULL AND FLIRTATIOUS GIRAFFE HELPED SAVE BARCELONA’S RAMBLA DE CATALUNYA
You’re familiar with the Ramblas in Barcelona, right? Most that read this will have traversed the famed stretch a time or two. Have you ventured further up, though?
Continuing north from the Ramblas, up past Plaça Catalunya, you’ll reach the Rambla de Catalunya, which rambles all the way up through the Esquerra de l’Eixample neighborhood, culminating at Av. Diagonal. It’s a beautiful, charming street to walk on, flanked by lime trees, restaurants, boutiques and more. If you find yourself hurriedly passing through, you might miss two intriguing statues along the way: Meditación and Coqueta.
The two bronze statues are both striking and humorous, and it’s clear that they are the work of the same artist. “Meditation” is a bull seated in a thoughtful position, much like Rodin’s “The Thinker,” which is why it’s been christened El Toro Pensador, or “The Thinking Bull.” “Flirtatious” is a large giraffe sprawled out in a flirty pose, hence its nickname, La Girafa Coqueta (“The Flirtatious Giraffe”).
We owe a great thanks to these two sculpted creatures. Here’s why:
Their story goes back to the mid-1950s in Barcelona when various neighborhood associations were formed to ensure the conservation of certain citizen environments; many different cultural activities were planned and carried out. Street contests were held. Float parades for the La Mercè festivities were organized, and the Christmas campaigns in each neighborhood, as well as on public roads, encouraged the installation of nativity scenes and Christmas decorations. The main idea was to create a stronger sense of community and neighborhood identity in order to prevent the upsurge of real estate during the postwar period. Starting in 1960, this was also true of the newly formed Associació d’Amics de la Rambla de Catalunya (“Friends of the Rambla de Catalunya Association”).
Back then, there was a proposed project to build underground car parks and turn the Rambla de Catalunya into a rapid circulation route that would connect Gran Via with Diagonal. As you might have guessed, this meant breaking its design as a promenade and turning it into a boulevard. As a means to put a stop to this, the Associació d’Amics decided to use art; in 1970, they announced that the promenade would be turned into a “sculpture museum” dedicated to a single artist. The plan was to situate 10 sculptures on each of the esplanade’s 10 blocks.
They chose Josep Granyer, a well-known Catalan sculptor and engraver.
Granyer was a founding member of Els Evolucionistes artistic group (“The Evolutionists”), along with important sculptors Joan Rebull and Apel·les Fenosa, which was formed to find an avant-garde response to the noucentisme movement’s aesthetic guidelines. After the Civil War, he became an expert in modeling and portraying animals with cartoonish irony and hilarity. During that period, he had already garnered fame for having illustrated Ramon Llull’s Llibre de les Bèsties, Josep Carner’s Museu Zoológic and the Catalan translation of Colette’s Sept dialogues de bêtes, as well as for doing the xylographs for Luciano de Samosata’s Lucio o El asno.
Now that the Amics Association had chosen their artist, 10 of his small bronze sculptures were selected; Granyer was tasked with creating large replicas of these to decorate the Rambla de Catalunya. Amongst of the collection of sculptures, there were: a bullfighting bull, a flirtatious giraffe, a thinking lion, a meditating camel, a violinist hippopotamus, a frenzied horse, a shy pig, a courier stork, a voluptuous eagle and a boastful peacock; you’ll notice that the idea for the final bull sculpture was eventually changed.
In 1970, the project was officially presented, with the approval of the Barcelona City Council; it would gradually be paid for by the Rambla’s neighbors and Amics, and the only expense to be covered by the City Council would be the small flowerbeds forming the base of each statue. All the while, the press advertised the initiative as a subtle and fun way of preserving the two rows of lime trees, which would have disappeared if the boulevard proposal had gone through.
The presentation of the bull and giraffe statues was held in December 1971. The two statues were then inaugurated by the city mayor on March 17th, 1972. Meditació was placed at the junction of Rambla de Catalunya and Gran Via, then known as Av. de José Antonio, while Coqueta was installed at Rambla de Catalunya’s intersection with Diagonal.
Now, we know what you must be thinking: what about the eight other proposed sculptures? Well, here is where the controversy began.
Due to their humorous nature, people thought the the sculptures’ central location was in bad taste. What’s more, according to several critics, especially Destino‘s Joan Ramon Triadó, turning the statuettes into public monuments was an attack on Granyer’s work; they claimed that it diminished the essence and intimacy of his smaller-sized statues. In the middle of all the fuss, the Barcelona City Council decided against granting the remaining permits to finalize the original proposal.
Thus, there on the promenade, at opposite ends, sit the flirtatious giraffe, awaiting prospective partners that will never come, and the pensive bull, meditating on, and maybe even lamenting, the absence of once-promised friends; the giraffe has a more grandiose perch in comparison to the bull, whose surroundings have been left a bit unkempt. While their remaining company never showed up, these two Granyer creations can rest easy in knowing that their presence saved one of Barcelona’s most charming stretches of avenue.
For any of you who have seen these two pieces, they have probably provoked your curiosity and maybe even a smile or chuckle. In venturing over to take photos of the two statues for this story, we observed that over half the people who were walking nearby ended up stopping to take photos of their own and admire them. Pay attention the next time you’re in their vicinity to those who appear to catch sight of them for the first time. It’s good fun.
The pensive bull was the victim of an attempted robbery back in 2003. Three individuals managed to unseat it from its pedestal and load it into a van. Luckily for us, however, the statue was rescued just minutes later at Plaça de Tetuan by the Mossos d’Esquadra.
By EMILY BENSON
Photos by ISABEL TROYA
Information gathered from:
Barcelona: Secretos a la Vista by Xavier Theros
La Vanguardia Hemeroteca (1), (2)
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