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Montaner i Simon. A publishing house with a history

Editorial Montaner i Simon was one of the most important publishing houses in Catalonia and Spain during the second half of the nineteenth century and the first third of the twentieth. For 120 years it produced an extensive catalogue of high-quality publications with a wide distribution network. After it ceased production in 1981, most of its documentation and printing material was lost or dispersed. With the aim of recovering this legacy, the Fundació Antoni Tàpies has initiated a research project that includes all the contributions from people who were involved, in one way or another, with the history of this publishing house.

The research is centred, on the one hand, on the history of the building created by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and, on the other, on the trajectory of the publishing house, with special emphasis on some of the literary figures who worked there. This leaflet offers a brief introduction to the more significant aspects of an ongoing research project.

The First Period: 1861–1950

In 1861, Ramon Montaner i Vila (1832–1921) and Francesc Simon i Font (1843–1923) founded a publishing house that would soon become one of the most renown in Spain for its volume of production and the quality of its publications, and one of the main exporters to America, where it struck important deals with other firms in the continent (most of them in Catalan hands) that acted as its own branches. The publishing house3 set a good example of harmonious coexistence between art and industry for its use of industrialisation (with the new systems of reproduction and mechanisation of traditional methods of publishing) to produce accurate, artistic and deluxe editions. Among its most famous publications are some monumental works in several volumes, such as Historia general del arte, edited by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Biblioteca universal ilustrada, Diccionario enciclopédico hispano-americano de ciencias, artes y literatura, Geografía universal, and the magazines La ilustración artística and El salón de la moda.

A Modernista Building
The publishing house occupied different sites until 1879, when Ramon Montaner commissioned his nephew Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1849–1923) to design a new building. Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s project for Editorial Montaner i Simon was dated 6 December 1879. Together with Gaudí’s Casa Vicens, it became one of the first examples of Modernista architecture in Barcelona. With this, his first individual project, the architect created a publishing house that represented an architectural novelty in a context that was still classical and ossified.

Traditional bibliography situates the construction of the building between 1879 and 1884, or even between 1881 and 1885 or 1886. However, recent research done by the Fundació Antoni Tàpies has revealed that construction work started in 18805 and might have ended as early as 1881 or 1882.

Like many buildings of the early Eixample, the Editorial Montaner i Simon was built on three floors. From a technological point of view, the building was one of the first to integrate into the urban fabric the use of red brick, a light and malleable material much in use in industrial architecture, and cast iron, which thanks to its lightness and resistance can provide a building with larger and freer floor-spaces. Together with these two materials, the use of glass should also be noted, for this is an element that, as well as closing the space, provides a series of chromatisms to the windows in the façade and to the library, and is a source of natural light. Despite the use of clearly industrial materials, the structure of the building is that of a palace, with its central atrium. The façade incorporates a series of symbolic elements that emphasise the industrial modernity of the publishing house.

The new headquarters had a basement where the powerful industrial installations were located: twelve typesetting machines (three of them of large dimensions), one phototypography and six lithography presses, three paper-finishing machines, a section for the stereotype press and a section for photography. Around two hundred employees worked in the manipulation of this infrastructure, not counting the draftsmen and engravers. The first floor was allocated to the management and administration, and the second floor to the draftsmen and engravers.

After the founders died in the early 1920s, the publishing house was inherited by Júlia Montaner de Capmany, Ricard de Capmany and Santiago Simon, and later by Ramon de Capmany i Montaner. All of them remained faithful to the policies of their predecessors.

The Second Period: 1950–81

José María González Porto (1896 – 1975), former correspondent for the publishing house in Latin America, became the director in 1950. Many years before he had emigrated from Galicia to Cuba, and then to Mexico, where he built a publishing empire with the creation of several branches in different Latin-American countries, including the Unión Tipográfica Editorial Hispano-Americana (UTEHA) in 1937. Under his management, Montaner i Simon published mainly dictionaries and encyclopaedias, as well as popular technical books. Soon after González Porto’s death, his heirs sold the firm to Tallers Offset Nerecan. Eventually, the firm went bankrupt in 1981.

Literary Figures on the Staff
During the last years in the history of this publishing house, several literary figures with similar attitudes and concerns coincided in the Production Department. Prominent among them are the writer Pere Calders, Jesús Moncada, who was then starting his literary career, and the historian Josep Soler Vidal.

Pere Calders (Barcelona, 1912 – 1994) had gone into exile in Mexico in 1939. His experience in graphic design and advertising allowed him to work in a similar capacity in the Mexican publishing world. From his studio Grabaluz, Calders undertook various assignments until finally, in 1943, he started working almost exclusively for the UTEHA. His involvement with this company included a variety of jobs, such as commercial design for illustration, engraving, book cover design and the creation of logotypes. In 1962, Calders returned to Barcelona and, a year later, he joined Editorial Montaner i Simon as production manager, a position he would occupy until his retirement. Pere Calders is the author of Cròniques de la veritat oculta (1955), Gent de l’alta vall (1957), Ronda naval sota la boira (1966) and L’ombra de l’atzavara (1964), among others.

Jesús Moncada (Mequinensa, 1941 – Barcelona, 2005) arrived in Barcelona in the mid-1960s and, after being a painter for a year, started to work for the Editorial Montaner i Simon, where he would remain until the company’s closure. Those were formative years for Moncada. Pere Calders, a writer he admired, encouraged him to write in his native Catalan dialect from the Ebro region. During those early years he wrote his first short stories and won his first awards (Premi Joan Santamaria, 1971, among others), until gradually he decided to dedicate more and more of his time to literature. Jesús Moncada is the author of the books of short stories, Històries de la mà esquerra (1981), El Café de la Granota (1985) and Calaveres atònites (1999); of the novels Camí de sirga (1988), La galeria de les estàtues (1992) and Estremida memòria (1997); and the collection of writings Cabòries estivals i altres proses volanderes (2003).

Josep Soler Vidal (Barcelona, 1908 – Gavà, 1999) went into exile in Mexico in 1940. There, together with Avel·lí Artís-Gener, he created the advertising agency Tisner. At the same time, he took part in a variety of cultural activities, such as the publication of the magazine Pont blau – whose editorial team he shared with Pere Calders, among others – and became involved in acts of political resistance. He published articles on historical subjects and the book Pels camins d’Utopia (1958). In 1965, he came back from exile and started working at the Editorial Montaner i Simon. He organised clandestine meetings in his house and, after the restoration of democracy, took part in acts for the restoration of the Estatut (Catalan Statutes) and the democratisation of local institutions.

Transformation into a Museum: 1984 to the present

The Fundació Antoni Tàpies
In 1984, Antoni Tàpies visited the Editorial Montaner i Simon for the first time. The building had been abandoned for a few years and its original structure had fallen into disrepair, but he was immediately struck by the extraordinary spatial and structural possibilities of the building to be turned into a museum dedicated to the conservation and diffusion of his work, as well as a centre for exhibitions of modern and contemporary art, seminaries and music and cinema cycles, and the publication of books and catalogues related to the institution’s activities.

The restoration and rehabilitation works to convert the building into a museum were conducted by the architects Roser Amadó and Lluís Domènech Girbau and were carried out from 1986 to 1990. In order to raise the height of the structure, which had been enclosed between the side walls of the two adjacent buildings, and to reinforce its identity, Antoni Tàpies intervened with the sculpture that crowns the building, Núvol i cadira (Cloud and Chair, 1990), realised with the technical collaboration of Pere Casanovas. The Fundació Antoni Tàpies opened its doors to the public on 5 June 1990.

From 2008 to 2010, the firm of architects Ábalos+Sentkiewicz Arquitectos carried out a second rehabilitation of the building in order to comply with the new safety and evacuation regulations and to recuperate its original industrial character. On this occasion, Antoni Tàpies’ work Mitjó (Sock. Maquette, 1991) was installed on the terrace of the Fundació, situated on top of the new offices.