The countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Spain and Portugal, make important contributions to twentieth-century culture, despite the disruptions and isolation caused by repressive political regimes throughout much of the period. Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), perhaps the most influential artist of the twentieth century, begins his earliest period of experimentation in Barcelona and Madrid, before settling in Paris in 1904. The Spanish Civil War and the eventual empowerment of General Francisco Franco (1892–1975) in 1939, in particular, begin a period of economic and political isolation in Spain that is not conducive to art production. A number of artists are exiled as a result of the Civil War, including the Catalan painter Joan Miró (1893–1983), who is associated with the Surrealists in Paris but returns to Spain with the outbreak of World War II. Over the course of its long duration, the Franco regime endorses an academic style of art that it believes to be consistent with its political ideology. Nonetheless, artists and groups with connections to avant-garde movements elsewhere in Europe do emerge, especially in the postwar years.
During the early years of the century, Spain is an important center for Art Nouveau in architecture and design. Through the 1930s, centers of Surrealist art production, in both literature and the visual arts, thrive in the Iberian Peninsula. In Portugal, a particular sort of modernist architecture is developed that possesses aesthetic ties with avant-garde design elsewhere on the continent yet simultaneously responds to the distinctive local vernacular. Between 1964 and 1981, the Spanish Equipo Crónica, a group of artists led by Rafael Solbes (1940–1981) and Manolo Valdés (born 1942), makes art inspired by American and European Pop Art but directed against the Franco regime. The group is associated with Estampa Popular, a collective of printmakers with a similarly critical political position.
In the years following the end of the Spanish dictatorship and Portuguese fascism in the 1970s, both countries are more fully integrated into the world economy. Spain and Portugal each begins to play a more important role in contemporary art, as new exhibition venues are established, and as visual artists, writers, and filmmakers from the Iberian Peninsula become more regular participants in international events.