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The Generation of 1898.

(La Generacion del 98)

Despite the numerous unsettling political and social vicissitudes that affected the Spanish scene during the first third of the 20th century, cultural creation witnessed a renewed splendour, which caused certain observers to speak of a 'Silver Age, beginning in 1898 and ending with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936.

The first of these dates marks the loss of Spain's last colonies, and, generally speaking, the conclusion of a long period of decline which had begun in the 17th century. An ample group of writers reacted against this fact, searching for its causes and attempting to seek out remedies for Spain's regeneration. They became known as the Generation of '98, and include among their number several great literary figures. Their activity was not however, limited to literature, but extended to the fields of science, medicine, history and the essay.

At the same time, 'modernism', a movement akin to French symbolism, pictorial and musical impressionism, decorative modern style and pre- Rafaelism, among other trends, arose. Catalunya always more open to the winds of change which frequently made tehir way to Spain, lived this phenomenon with special intensity. The brilliant architect Antonio Gaudi, was its principal figure, linked as he was to the Renaixenca (Renaissance) of Catalan culture, which was based on the presperity of a cultivated, industrial bourgeoisie with an increasing inclination to soppurt regionalist ideas. The extremely personal art of Gaudi, full of botanical and animal suggestions, with such revolutionary works as the unfinished Sagrada Familia and the fantastical Parque Guell garden, can be admired principally in Barcelona. From this modernist Catalan ambiance two great painters would also come to the forefront; they are Picasso and Nonell.

Also at the turn of the century, the echoes of musical nationalism, which were resounding through the whole continent, came to Spain. Two composers won international recognition within this current; they were Isaac Albeniz and Enrique Granados. The Iberia piano suites, a creation of Alebniz, synthesize romantic, virtuosity and impressionist levity with pintoresque baroque and the colour of popular Spanish music. In 'Las danzas espanolas and Goyescas', one of Granados' compositions, an intimate romanticism with accents from all the regions of Spain is evident.

In the domain of painting, Ignacio Zuloaga, depicted, with his robust sketches and his typically Spanish types, a world closely linked to the literature of the Generation of '98. Along a different aesthetic line, the Valencian Joaquin Sorolla can be categorized as a post-impresionist using brilliant colouring. Beyond the anecdote portrayed in each canvas, the Levantine light is the great protagonist in his seaside scenes that can be admired in the Sorolla Museum in Madrid. Another Valencian impressionist, Mariano Benlliure, was a brilliant sculptor of monuments, busts and bullfighting scenes.

The Generation of '98 was almost obsessively preoccupied with what came to be known as the 'Spanish problem', and thus rediscovered the beauty of the somber Castilian countryside and developed a considerable stylistic renovation avoinding the characteristic 19th century rhetoric.

Some members of this Generation attained truly universal standing, as is the case of the Basque Miguel de Unamuno, who, in his 'Sentimiento tragico de la vida', anticipates the reflections and the basic themes of existencialism. Another Basque, Pio Baroja, the great realistic novelist, narrates with such simplicity, naturalness and dynamism that it is not surprising that Hemingway proclaimed him his master. The Valencian, Azorin, sang with impressionistic sensivity of serene Castile and its people, of the 'beauty of the ordinary'. The Gallego Ramon Maria del Valle Inclan gave musicality to Spanish prose, first from a modernist aestheticism and later in a Spanish expressionism kown as the 'esperpento'. The Andaluz, Antonio Machado, initiated contemporary Spanish poetry by merging reflexive seriousness, deep temporal meditation and civic motives with symbolism. Along these same sentimental lines arose the poetry of Nobel prize winner Juan Ramon Jimenez, who evolved over time, driven by perfectionism towards a deeper, more abstract and complex lyricism.

Spanish intellectuals in this period felt with particular intensity the influence of European culture and made a notable effort to incorporate its latest advances. The philisopher Ortega y Gasset studied in Germany and brought back to Spain many novelties of contemporary vitalism. He founded the 'Revista de Occidente', one of the first intellectual publications in Europe at the time. Ramon Perez de Ayala experienced the attraction of the liberal English spirit and expressed it in his intellectual essays and novels which allowed him to enjoy considerable prestige in Europe. The art critic and essayist Eugenio d'Ors wrote in three languages, Catalan, Spanish and French and was one of the renovators of European criticism of Baroque art. Almost all of these authors habitually wrote for newspapers, imparting information and promoting cultural education. They were responsible for the renovation of national sensibility, exposing it to European modernity.