Casa Lis (Lis House), which nowadays houses the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Déco, was originally an urban mansion. Its name hails from the surname of its owner and promoter, Miguel de Lis, a Salamanca-born industrialist who owned a prosperous tannery.
Miguel de Lis commissioned the designing of his home to architect Joaquín de Vargas y Aguirre who planned a building constructed of industrial materials such as glass and iron, an innovation in Salamanca at that time. Casa Lis was finished in 1905. It combined Modernista elements with other, more classical influences, resulting in a building that has become one of the city's most representative images, both due to the Art Nouveau design of its north façade and for the spectacular nature of its southern façade, which overlooks the river Tormes.
Just as Casa Lis lived through periods of splendour, it also experienced its years of abandon and ruin. Yet fortunately, the building's current owner, the Salamanca City Council, recognised its value and expropriated it, undertaking a number of renovations that have saved it from disappearing. In 1995, the Museo Art Nouveau y Art Déco was inaugurated to display the collection of decorative arts that another Salamanca local, Manuel Ramos Andrade, had bequeathed to his city.
To convert the building into a museum, Casa Lis underwent a thorough transformation of its decorative aspects. So the building was provided with leaded stained-glass windows, following the Catalan tradition of the houses of the Barcelona Eixample. Particularly noteworthy is the polychrome stained-glass ceiling that roofs the central patio, composed of over 2,000 pieces of leaded glass, designed by Ramos Andrade and created by the Catalan glazier, Juan Villaplana.
Through its nineteen collections, an exploration of its halls shows visitors a range of production from European decorative art workshops around 1900: jewellery by Masriera and Faberge; iridescent glass from the workshops of Lotz, Kralik, Pallme König or l'École de Nancy, including pieces by Emile Gallé, the Daum brothers and Paul Nicolas; furniture by Homar, Majorelle, Busquets; porcelain pieces by Rosenthal, Royal Copenhagen, Mariano Benlliure, Gustave Guetant and Zuloaga. The collections of which Casa Lis is the custodian illustrate the professional trajectory of authors as significant as Emile Gallé with his glass works of superimposed layers and his exquisite furniture, or the evolution of Rene Lalique who, starting out by designing Art Nouveau jewellery, subsequently orientated his creativity towards glass design in the following decades.
The French porcelain doll collection from the 19th century is wonderful. It is a collection that has been defined by experts as the greatest collection exhibited in public worldwide. Likewise, the exhibition of Chryselephantine sculpture, by Demetre Chiparus and Ferdinand Preiss among others, consists of small sculptures that combine metal for garments and marble for the naked parts of the body such as the face and hands. These have become emblematic of Art Deco.
Yet to speak of Casa Lis is also to speak of exhibitions that periodically fill its temporary exhibition halls. Anglada Camarasa (2006), Alphons Mucha (2009), Picasso (2010) or Diaghilev's Ballets Russes (2011) are the latest examples of an exhibition programme that is consistently reinvented.