Europe in the 1920s and 1930s witnessed far-reaching experimentation with an inclination towards a return to figuration and Western tradition, a “return to order”, to use Jean Cocteau’s expression, at the same time as highly nuanced abstraction developed.
Some artists considered this retrieval of figuration and the object as a critical overhaul of the artistic past, while others deemed it an artistic, historicist and nostalgic regression representing a genuine dissolution of historical avant-garde movements. The process had germinated a few years previously, occurring simultaneously in different European countries — on one side, the Latin context, France and Italy, contributing with Mediterranean classicism via Picasso, Derain and Italian artists associated with the magazine Valori Plastici, and on the other, the social critique of German artists from New Objectivity.
In Spain, knowledge of these forms of modern realism came promptly by way of numerous cultural magazines and publications echoing these trends. Proof of their scope can be seen in the first exhibition organised in 1925 by the Society of Iberian Artists in Madrid (SAI), in which the general thrust was figuration, albeit with multi-hued characteristics.
In 1925, Franz Roh assembled a broad selection of this European realism in an influential essay entitled Nach-Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus: Probleme der neuesten europäischen Malerei (Post-Expressionism. Magic Realism: Problems of the Newest European Painting). Sebastià Gasch, in his critique of the book for La Gaceta Literaria, referred to these forms of realism as allusions “which sprout by chance from realisation, unconsciously; the departures of poetic memory, which stores memories of reality”.
Roh’s theses were decisive in configuring a new generation of artists, most notably Ángeles Santos, who created the monumental canvas Un mundo (A World, 1929), in which there is a strong presence of the interior view of the artist, in close proximity to Surrealism. That said, other artists such as Rosario de Velasco and Alfonso Ponce de León viewed the trend as a kind of retrograde avant-garde, a balance between classicism and modernity, which they shared with the Italian group Novecento and its fascist ideology.