The Colors of Catalonia         
 In the footsteps of 20th-century artists    
 by Virginie Raguenaud
This travel guide can be ordered at your local bookstore or online. 
HomeRead An ExcerptFestivalsMuseumsPhoto Gallery and Map


This book is about the inspiring intersection between art, travel, and the creative spirit. Together we will tour seventeen picturesque villages in French and Spanish Catalonia – places where some of the most brilliant minds of the art world found their courage and authenticity. 

In the fishing village of Collioure, Henri Matisse developed Fauvism with André Derain; Pablo Picasso matured as an artist in the mountain villages of Horta de Sant Joan and Gósol and later created Cubism with Georges Braque in Céret. Invigorated by the landscape around Cadaqués and Figueres, where he grew up, Salvador Dalí became the most famous of the Surrealist painters. 

Catalonia also welcomed Paul Gauguin, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Joan Miró, Aristide Maillol, George-Daniel de Monfreid, Henri Manguin, Etienne Terrus, Louis Valtat, Marc Chagall, and many more. Some of the artists were natives of Catalonia, while others chose to pack up their suitcases and travel long hours by train to experience firsthand the glow of the Catalan landscape, its culture, and its people. 

An important theme in this book is the power of travel on the creative mind. When you travel, you’re confronted with a chance to expand your perspective, to grow, and to self-renew. You’re out of the fog of your daily routines. When you allow yourself to be a stranger in a new place and invite the unknown into your life, you discover great things about yourself. 

When artists left Paris and arrived in Catalonia, they encountered a new language, a new landscape and independent and self-reliant villagers who had their own rules and expectations. These artists were suddenly free from the pressures of the academic art world. The noise of the city had been left behind, and they could listen to their own instincts and preferences and create authentic work. 

Most of the artists of the early twentieth-century were guided by the most fearless traveler of them all, Paul Gauguin, who left Paris in 1891 to live among the inhabitants of Tahiti. They adhered to his call “to dare everything,” and Catalonia proved to be the perfect place to unleash their creative spirits. I hope this book inspires readers to explore Catalonia and its sun-drenched villages, which stand tucked along the Mediterranean Sea or in the foothills of the Canigou Mountain. 

Since traveling is like a good work of art, it’s no surprise that many travelers also find refuge in art museums. As I walk along the halls of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, looking at how artists try to define the world around them, I’m immediately reassured that I too will find a way to make sense of the world around me. It’s like a powerful walking meditation. 

There are treasures to be found not only in iconic art museums like the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Hermitage, but also in smaller local museums. I hope this book motivates readers – whether they are on the road or at home – to learn more about the art and lives of both the great twentieth-century art pioneers and the lesser-known artists, including Etienne Terrus, George-Daniel de Monfreid, Gustave Fayet, and Louis Valtat, whose talent and vision greatly contributed to the development of modern art. I hope this book also reminds readers to support the arts in their local communities.

Maillol, Matisse, Miró, and many other artists struggled at the beginning of their careers. They often lacked the support of their families, who were unimpressed by their potential future as an “artiste maudit,” living the Bohemian lifestyle without any financial security. Still, they believed they had something worthwhile to contribute to their craft and persevered. I hope this book encourages artists – young and old – to believe in their work. As Gauguin declared in a letter to de Monfreid, “Criticism passes – good work remains.”

Last but not least, a quick geography lesson. Catalonia was divided in 1659 by King Philip IV of Spain and King Louis XIV of France with the Treaty of the Pyrenees. The region was split along the Albères mountain range, which is part of the Pyrenees and forms a natural border between French and Spanish Catalonia. Spanish Catalonia is composed of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona, and Lleida. It covers an area of more than 12,000 square miles, and its capital is the city of Barcelona. 

French Catalonia includes six historical regions: Alta Cerdanya, Capcir, Conflent, Vallespir, Fenolheda, and Rosselló. French Catalonia is also known as the Roussillon or the département des Pyrénées-Orientales. The region covers an area of 1,600 square miles, and Perpignan is the capital city. Strangely enough, because of miswording in the Treaty of the Pyrenees, there is one small Spanish enclave, the town of Llivia, which is still located in French Catalonia. After the signing of the treaty, many Catalan villagers ignored the political and geographical developments, as they did not identify as French or Spanish, but simply as Catalan. It was not until the French government came to the Roussillon to recruit soldiers during World War I that many villagers found out which country they were living in. 

I hope you enjoy discovering the beauty of Catalonia and find inspiration in the colorful and uplifting personal stories of the great twentieth-century painters and writers who called it home, even if for just a summer. 

Le Grand Café in Céret
Writer Rudyard Kipling, who visited Vernet-les-Bains in 1910, 1911, & 1914
Painter Salvador Dalí
Autoportrait avec Portrait de Bertrand, "Les Miserables" by Paul Gauguin
The Yorck Project
The Cloister in Elne