Salvador Dalí was born in Catalonia in 1904, and he moved to Madrid in 1922, at the age of 18. What did his country look like during those years? The photos below show a glimpse of Spain in the first decades of the 20th century.
It was a time of uncertainty, yet also an era of profound creative energy across Spain. In Madrid, for instance, Dalí fell in with a community of artistic luminaries and developed friendships with the poet Federico García Lorca and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. In Barcelona, the other great surrealist, Joan Miró, held his first exhibition in 1918. In 1923, a young American journalist named Ernest Hemingway ran with the bulls for the first time in Pamplona. Three years later, he published The Sun Also Rises.
But growing political and cultural rifts in the fabric of Spanish society were pushing the nation toward crisis. In 1936, Spain began a gruesome civil war. Like so many others, the poet Federico García Lorca was executed by firing squad and buried in an unmarked ditch. At the end of the conflict, General Francisco Franco took control of the country. His authoritarian regime would rule Spain for the next four decades. The scars from that era’s repression and isolation remain raw to this day.
After the Franco dictatorship began, the French writer and philosopher Albert Camus wrote in a letter to a friend,
“It was in Spain that [my generation] learned that one can be right and yet be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own recompense. It is this, doubtless, which explains why so many, the world over, feel the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy.”
The photos below show Spain as it was before that tragedy unfolded.