The Osborne Bull: Advertising As Art

El Mundo / el Dominical, Madrid, and The European  London, 1994 (2,300 words)
Versión en español  


"The idea of the Osborne bull is that of a mythological, strong Iberian bull," says Claire Filhol. "The one in which Picasso and Miró found inspiration: free in the countryside."

"It was much later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), that Prieto found his real vocation and passion, poster design."

Salvador Clotas, the spokesman on cultural affairs for PSOE, agrees with Filhol. "It's difficult to find anything to dislike in it," comments, "especially given its clear cultural values…." One powerful association is Picasso's stoic bull in his giant canvas Guernica, a work painted in 1937 in protest against the Nazi bombing of the Basque town's civil population. The bull is generally interpreted as symbolising the Spanish people's strength despite their suffering. As long as Franco's dictatorship lasted, Picasso refused to allow the painting to hang in Spain. But Prieto's bull, silently surveying the Spanish roads, was a reminder of it.

Such associations open the possibility of the bulls being granted a special status, as some kind of artistic heritage. They would then enjoy the same kind of viewing as the open-air sculptures of renowned Basque sculptor Eduardo Chillida.

Manolo Prieto's daughter Margarita says that would have delighted her father. She remembers "he never saw the bull as his best work", but he did look on it almost like "his own son".


Who, then, was the artist behind the work? Prieto inherited his gifts as a draughtsman from his father, a modest retailer in El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz). Born in 1912, he suffered from asthma as a child and used to practise his drawing when he had time off school. Later he took classes in the town's art school, where Rafael Alberti had studied ten years earlier, and won a scholarship to Madrid. The scholarship money never arrived. At the age of 18, he decided to head for the capital anyway to try his luck.

Margarita, his daughter, says that it was much later, during the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), that he found his real vocation. In the war years his work as a painter of theatrical sets dwindled away, but he began to design Republican posters instead.

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