”Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.”…“There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” ( Ernest Hemingway )
The Dead Toreador Society. Gored by ego; a pair of horns in the groin and a pain in the butt. Cheer for the bull. Anti bullfighting campaigners decry the cruelty of a practice in which the bull is publicly taunted, maimed, and made to bleed, before being callously killed. It breeds insensitivity to the brutal abuse of animals, they argue, and causes unnecessary suffering simply for the pleasure of the spectators. Aficionados counter with a variety of arguments. Bullfighting is part of the Spanish identity; the bull leads a pampered life until it enters the ring, where it will die within 20 minutes, and therefore receives better treatment than the millions of animals, fattened for mass consumption; the bull is so driven by adrenaline that it doesn’t really suffer and so on.
About 250,000 bulls are estimated to die each year in the nine countries that allow the sport, with 60,000 of the kills occurring in Spain. The romantic imagery painted of Spanish bullfighting in Ernest Hemingway’s famous book The Sun Also Rises has been taking some hard knocks lately. Spain is edging ever closer to banning the sport and few topics generate more heated discussion than bullfighting. Advocates call it an art, and there seems to be no room for compromise.Its claim to be an integral part of Spanish artistic culture is reflected in its place in Spanish newspapers, where reports on bullfights regularly appear in the section entitled Cultura; it is not a sport, goes the argument. There is an aesthetic of bullfighting that has been linked to Spain’s identity, but this appears secondary to the attraction of the spectacle as an earlier pagan traditions; and a human drama and dilemma that play itself out vicariously in the bullfight that has always attracted artists.
While many literary critics are hung up on observing that bullfighting in The Sun Also Rises is symbolic of Ernest Hemingway’s seeming obsession with masculinity and machismo, there are likely more subtler symbolic meanings can be gleaned from the vivid depictions of bullfighting in the novel. For example, the piercing dialogue and resulting momentary revealing glimpses of characters in the novel can be viewed as characters feinting about each other in an open arena. As the matador of dialogue, Hemingway masterfully handles his cape of words with true finesse. Viewed from this perspective, Hemingway’s bullfight is a metaphor for the intricate but often choreographed relationships between men and women.
The understated passion between Jake and the promicuous Brett in The Sun Also Rises is what marks the novel as a brilliant representative of the Modern period of American literature. Without that passionate undercurrent that exists within the dialogue, the novel plods along without evident purpose, plot, or resolution; but within the dialogue, one can perceive the complicated posturing of a group of actors who collectively make a statement about the futility of relationships. In the same way, the bullfight represents the final fight of the bull against the skillful handling of the bullfighter.The novel becomes an arousing roller coaster ride between “the bull,” “the steer,” “the matador” and “the cape.” The emotionally unstable characters within the story can easily be identified within the novel when analyzing each character. The characters are all overly complicated yet intellectually simplistic so the formula works well for Hemingway.
The idea is a bit crude, but it holds up to a certain point; as long as the characters are relatively transparent, lack dimensionality, and don’t think too much or too often, and are willing to trot through the paces. As with bullfighting, everything has a beginning and the ultimate end. In the novel, the end is the destruction of the character’s relationship with one another.The equivalence of sexual and mental conquests are the main theme of “The Sun Also Rise.” The character of Lady Brett stands firm as one of passion, purpose and resolve. The force of Lady Brett is not dissimilar from Hemingway’s graphic description of the bullfight. The genius of Picasso was to flip the conventional paradigm on its back:
”It is first important to see how Picasso’s eccentric take on the bullfight, in which the horse and the bull interact, diverges from the traditional bullfight in order to understand the horse’s significance in Guerinca. Traditionally, the bull in the corrida, or the bullfight, represents the inherent and animalistic brute of nature, the matador the more feminine and graceful personality, dressed accordingly so in pinks with pointy shoes, and often overlooked, the horse is seen as the innocent victim of gorings by an enraged bull during this dance on the brink of death. The horse plays a neutral and ignorant role un
cored by the fact that it is historically blindfolded during the bullfight and due to a prior operation on its vocal cords it is literally silenced during the fight . The horse is a member of an intermediary team of it and its rider, the picador, who stabs the bull to get it riled up before the matador steps into to the ring to deliver the final blows.”
Portugal has its own variation in which the bull is fought from horseback and not killed in the ring. Even within Spain, there may be regional variations. For example, the recortes of the Basque Country and Navarra, which involve young men doing acrobatic stunts around and over the bull,which though teased mercilessly, is not killed or even physically harmed, though humiliated he may be. If you have seen Goya’s famous etching of the 19th-century fighter Juanito Apiñani vaulting over a bull, you get the idea.
”Of course, it is likely that opposition to banning the sport will be noisy, especially when it’s a multimillion dollar generating industry that’s subsidized by the Spanish government. Then there are also those fans to whom the sport is a profound tradition to be upheld, like a ten year old matador who set a Guiness World Record for killing six young bulls in one weekend despite protests. He later declared, “No one can stop me fighting… I was born a bullfighter and will die one.” At least this boy has been banned from bullfighting in Spain and now must practice his trade in Latin America.”
Manet, who some refer to as the dry modernist who created access to Spanish painting for our contemporary age, struggled mightily with and may have felt that he lost the battle with his Dead Toreador,which is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. He initially constructed the painting to include a bullfighting ring on the upper half. After much public criticism, Manet cut the painting and what we see now is the the Dead Toreador. The Bullfight is the upper half and can be seen at the Frick Collection.
Many painters consider painting to be a battle from which to emerge victorious. The bullfight could be viewed as a metaphor for the fighter’s lightness and dexterity versus the bull beast’s dark massive force, man versus nature, artist vs. art, and painter vs. painting. Which is plausible. The bullfight ring and the toreador encompasses the grand gesture, and like opera it has to work. The bravado and or mystique that accompanies the bullfight in Spanish painting in Picasso’s La Corrida , Manet’s Dead Toreador, and Goya ‘s Tauromaquia and Bullfight are difficult and challenging works; grand gestures. Goya painted his bullfight as in one of his last paintings during his exile in Paris, shortly after his Disaster of War series, his emphasized the sacrificial and brutal aspects.
Eric Fischl’s is a modern artist who has tried to capture the bullfight and with mixed results since the process was to take photographs and base his paintings on the pictures and his actual experience and try to create an understanding of an idiom. As a group the paintings seem like a stage separate from the place with no noise, clutter or crowd. Neither is the blood a major player on the stage as in Goya’s Bullfight. They are distanced from the spectacle and informed by the photographs as a separate experience from the actual hot, dusty, smelly, brutal reality.
”Eric Fischl is light and deft with his strokes in Corrida In Ronda #8. The sword is key and consists of a single red stroke of paint. That paint stroke bisects the canvas into thirds and sets up a triangular relationship with the toreador, sword and dying bull. In triumph, the fighter is pictorially equal to the bull, the thin red stroke; delineating the sword is key and is also evidence of the grand gesture of the painter himself: his stroke of blood red paint in battle with painting, which he has subdued. He takes a back seat because the stroke is king, the brush is like the sword in battle as the bull wears a garland of flowers and is skewered there. The bull dies slowly in the mix with a garland of blood and flowers. The pictorial construction here marries the content, hand in glove. This grand gesture encompasses the struggle between man and nature: subduing nature with bravado and delicacy.
As is the tradition in Goya’ hometown, Zaragoza, the fighters make their own costumes and according to the press release Goya created the costume’s basic design. This violet one Fischl represents so delicately in Corrida In Ronda #8 ,that I thought I was looking at a vase of lilacs for a moment. Thinking of Manet’s last flower paintings I also considered the lightness of it, almost too light in color and weight, difficult to believe the painting is about ultimately about killing and death. This is an elegant and light drenched piece, with no trace of awkwardness but it with left me with an emotional ambivalence. Does the painter emerge victorious and does it matter?”
”The way former Mexican bullfighter Christian Hernandez explained himself – recalling the moment earlier this week, when, faced with a charging bull, he ran away from it, dropped his cape and jumped out of the ring – is that he did it because he “felt a deep fear.” …“I decided that was it. I didn’t have the ability,” he said after he officially ended his bullfighting career. And for saying that, he is my new hero. …It’s almost as if the man just really didn’t want to get gored by a bull. …Ignoring everything Mr. Hernandez said about his love of bullfighting, PETA has reimbursed him for the fine he had to pay and congratulated all the “ ‘real men’ out there who save animals rather than stab them,” with a condescending “Olé!” on a post on their website.) …Of course the video has made the rounds and many have ridiculed Mr. Hernandez’s actions as unmanly.
Yet I found his behaviour to be the opposite. We’re moving towards a more self-aware matador, that’s all. Watching that video of Mr. Hernandez fleeing amid derisive whistles from his fellow Mexicans, I felt that facing the bull would’ve been the easier choice for Mr. Hernandez. Instead he ran. “You must know a few things about yourself, like I can’t do this…this is not my cup of tea,” he said.( Tabatha Southey, Globe and Mail )
”In Corrida La Ronda No. 6 the space looks chopped up and the blankets look incidental while main figure seems stiff and to have his head falling too far forward. In Corrida La Ronda No. 3 the Bull is too prussian blue, the fighter feels merged with the bull and I am not convinced about the presence of his right leg, the one that is hidden by the blanket. To compare, Hopper always convinces us that what is hidden and necessary is there. The bull looks to long for the whole configuration and the group: man, blanket and bull, appears to separate from its environment, cut out, and also connected like leggos in a funny way, and stiff. That said, Corrida La Ronda No. 1 and 2 are masterful,… ”
Bullfighting has popularly been viewed as a male pursuit, but in fact women bullfighters have appeared periodically in some form since the birth of modern bullfighting in the 18th century. Opposition was always strong and the arguments against matadoras similar through the centuries: they degraded the bullfight; they threatened social stability; they were an affront to public decency and lowered moral standards; they should be at home and so on. The opposition came from moralists, purist aficionados and bullfighters themselves, many of whom threatened not to appear in the ring with a matadora. The appeal of the spectacle, however has always had women as a strong fan base on the attraction of the charismatic and macho matadors like Jesus Janeiro and Manuel Benitez who could be showered with brassieres. The appeal was the ”authenticity” of the bullfight; how it strips away at an artificiality of contemporary life to go back to a form of pagan ritual. Dali would probably equate the Bull with the rhinoceros horn he made famous and draw the parallel with this representational form of aggressive symbolism that have underlined even the works of the masters from Vermeer to Picasso according to him.
Fans in general, on the other hand, were more accepting if the sale of tickets to corridas including matadoras was anything to go by. Still, there were periodic bans, and a long hiatus during the Franco dictatorship (1939-75). Following a successful appeal against the ban in 1974, matadoras or senoritas toreras (as they were called) again made an appearance. The best known is Cristina Sánchez who took her alternativa (formal investiture in the presence of a veteran matador) in 1996 in Nimes, southern France. She retired 3 years later, however, asserting that she couldn’t get top billing and that some bullfighters would not fight if she was on the programme.
”Though Picasso demonstrates the bull/matador dichotomy to some extent in his early works expressed by Marrero, he later abandons it for a more symbolic struggle between just bull and horse. He untraditionally embodies the “graceful” and feminine aspects of the bullfight all in the horse rather than the matador. Picasso’s “successive compositions” note this evolution to the bull and horse duality—a de-emphasis of the human member of the bullfight, the matador and the picador, leaving the gory and symbolic battle of the animals.
This dichotomy is first seen in the early of Barcelona pastels and is later developed and redefined symbolically in Guernica. The theme of the bullfight has been a constant in Picasso’s artistic career, all the way back to the start of the century during his first visits to the ring. When he frequented Barcelona during 1900 to 1901, he attempted to capture the corrida in all its Spanish glory to sell to the exotic-seeking Parisians in a series of bright pastels of the bullfight. However they were not going to get what they expected. Superficially, from these pastels emanated the sense of Barcelona’s summer and the vivid reds of the stands and of the blood combined with the yellows of the sands of the ring which mimicked the colors of the Spanish flag as Picasso declared his identity as a Spaniard (Comisarenco, 69). Yet, since these paintings seem symbolically thin when compared to the extreme symbolism in Picasso’s later works, these future works, especially the Guernica (1937), indicate that there is much more meaning behind these simple pastels. Already this young artist was observing the famous bullfight in terms of the biases that he would carry on throughout his career and thus is it extremely important to understand his first impressions of the bullfight to begin to interpret the complexity of the Guernica.”