A Short History of Pamplona´s Bullfight Fair and its Posters

The posters announcing the Bullfight Fair of Sanfermines have painted, drawn and colored their way throughout the past 60 years in Pamplona and up to the present. This year, 2019, César Barrio, an architect from Asturias, places a primitive sketch of a bull near the center of the ring with sand playing an important part – moving, swirling like a matador´s cape or a wave about to engulf the animal.

Looking back in time to the origins of the poster, in 1959 the Casa de Misericordia, owner of the bullring and organizer of all events related to the spectacle such as the bullfights, preparation of the bull corrals, or contracting bull ranches and matadors for the fiesta of San Fermín, began its work with two important absences in the ring: the famous matador, Antonio Ordóñez, and his equally famous brother-in-law, Luis Miguel Dominguín.

When negotiations failed to solve the money problem between the Casa de Misericordia and these two matadors, it was decided that more importance should be put on the bulls themselves. In spite of not fighting in Pamplona, Antonio Ordóñez was present in Pamplona to spend Sanfermines with his close friend and Nobel Prize winner, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway had met Antonio Ordóñez in 1953 after admiring him in Pamplona´s bullring – also during Sanfermines.

Neither the people of Pamplona nor the bulls waiting patiently for Sanfermines were eating very much in the years following the Spanish Civil War. This was still the case in 1959. It was almost impossible for the bullfight organizers to find animals fit for the ring in Pamplona until a bullfighting committee was created in the Casa de Misericordia. These men contacted Mariano Ansó, mayor of Pamplona during the Republic and whose circle of friends included the brilliant matador, Juan Belmonte. From there, another contact was made with a person said to be able to solve the problem of finding healthy, well-fed bulls worthy of Pamplona.

It would not be a stretch of the imagination to say that Ordóñez, Dominguín, Hemingway and hungry bulls led not only to the Fair but also to the need to publicize it. During the first years, between 1800 and 1950, posters featured mainly textual information – but art would soon make its appearance.

If Pamplona couldn´t at first have the bullfighters it wanted, then it could have the best bulls. Thus was born the Bullfight Fair of Sanfermines, partly to pacify the fans of these two bullfighting giants.

Between 1951 and 1975, the posters began to resemble the ones today. From collage to abstract, the Sanfermines bull and its fair drew on many art tendencies and schools. More and more people presented their posters to the Casa de Misericordia, and art leaned towards contemporary.

In 1977 Pedro Salaberri, a well-known painter from Pamplona, presented his idea for the poster – a bull in the calm countryside of Ulzama, Navarra, with no bullring in sight. In 1981 the German painter, Edith Hultzsch, was the first woman to present a poster in which the bull and the bullfighter can be seen through movements of color and force. América Sánchez, on the other hand, created a totally different poster. Sánchez, born in Argentina but living in Spain, created a poster in 1987 that seemed to be more of a slogan than anything else. This work, full of symbolism, shows a circle, a bullring where a golden color corresponds to the bullfighter and black letters demonstrate the movement and vitality of the bull. The great Fernando Botero also took his idea of the Bullfight Fair poster to Sanfermines in 1998. Botero places the matador in the center of the poster, making a triangle between the the bullfighter, the bull and the public.

Continuing on up to the present, these posters have become collectors´ items and a story of art evolution. In 2009 Rafael Moneo, architect who enlarged Pamplona´s bullring in 1967, was chosen to create the poster. Moneo played with the color red over a yellow base, giving importance to the encierro. María Franco from Murcia followed the life of a fighting bull from birth to death in the ring with explosions of colors. In the year 2013, Mikel Urmeneta presented a poster that addressed the senses. It is an easily recognizable photograph with San Fermín red in the center, structuring the figure of the bull with imaginative success.

The official web page of the “Feria del Toro de San Fermín” explains that the posters for the fair are, since 1959, property of the Casa de Misericordia de Pamplona. The posters combine modern art, photography and humor, and reproductions of the posters can be acquired in two formats in the reception area of the Casa de Misericordia de Pamplona, in the bullring or online at feriadeltoro.com. Prices are three euros and two euros.

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