Inhabitants of the Museum: Pepe-Hillo, an authentic bullfighter

Habitants del Museu: Pepe-Hillo, un torero d’autorPablo Picasso: Portrait of Pepe Illo. Drawing on paper. 1898. Brown and sanguine pencil on paper. 17,5 x 10,5 cm. Inscription: Pepe – ILLO / JOSEPH DELGADO with brown and sanguine pencil, lower margin. Donation Picasso, Pablo, 1970. MPB 111.367


In our series about  the inhabitants of the Museu Picasso of Barcelona, we would like to dedicate this article to José Delgado Guerra, better known as Pepe-Hillo (sometimes written without the either the ‘h’ or the hyphen: Pepe Illo), who apart from being a key figure in the evolution of bullfighting, also achieved major popularity with his rather unorthodox style.

Pepe-Hillo was born in Seville on 14th March 1754 and learnt to bullfight as a disciple of Joaquín Rodríguez, alias Costillares, who was considered to be the father of modern bullfighting.  In 1769, when he was only 15 years old, he made his debut as a novice, and when he was 20 years old he received the ‘alternativa‘ (the ceremony of recognition) from Juan Romero, officially becoming a bullfighter.

Provided with a very particular style, filled with subtle moves and with a point of recklessness, Pepe-Hillo won the enthusiasm of fans of the bullfights, but also the enmity of other purist bullfighters. This was the case of Pedro Romero, who considered that the bullfighter only had to use his hands and should be still from waist down. Maybe to prove that he also knew the classic rules, Pepe-Hillo published in 1796 the treatise Tauromachy or the Art of Bullfighting, probably written with his friend José de la Tixera.

Finally, on 11th May 1801, Pepe-Hillo died in the Bullring of Corte de Madrid (currently, the Bullring of Monumental de Las Ventas), on being gored twice by a bull called Barbudo (The bearded one).  The death of the bullfighter caused a great commotion to the city, to the point that Goya put the episode on record in some engravings and that Queen María Luisa referred to in her private correspondence.

The fame of Pepe-Hillo continued to live on many years after his death, as shown by the fact that Pablo Picasso dedicated the portrait at the top of this article, when the artist was still a teenager. It is a small drawing on paper that includes the signature «P.R.P.» (Pablo Ruiz Picasso) and the inscription «Pepe-Illo / Joseph Delgado» which the artist donated to the Museum in 1970.


Habitants del Museu: Pepe-Hillo, un torero d’autorDavid Douglas Duncan: Picasso working on Tauromachy. La Californie, 1957. Modern digital copy by inkjet. 50 x 60 cm. Donation David Douglas Duncan, 2013


Almost three decades after this drawing, in 1927, Gustau Gili Roig, founder of the publishing house Gustavo Gili, proposed to Picasso to illustrate the first book of the collection of high bibliophilia “Ediciones de la Cometa“. Picasso accepted the assignment and proposed illustrating the treatise by Pepe-Hillo. The artist composed seven etchings on copper between 1927 and 1928, and on October 26th, 1929 Gili Roig asserted in a letter to Henry de Montherlant that the etchings were “magnificent” and that he wanted to publish the work “in great luxury format”. Unfortunately, the project was interrupted for reasons that are unknown.

On 6th January 1956, Gustau Gili Esteve contacted Picasso once again, so as to resume the project that had been left unfinished with his father. Picasso replied that “at this time, Gili, nothing would please him more than to illustrate Pepe Illo,” and he began working on the illustrations in the spring of 1957 after attending bullfights of Arles. This time, Picasso created 28 sugar-lift aquatints printed in the Lacourière-Frélaut workshop in Paris and a drypoint for the cover, printed by Jaume Pla in Barcelona. The works had the aim of showing the complete process of the bullfights.

Picasso returned to the bullfights of Arles in the autumn of 1957 and, in a rash of euphoria, he threw Jacqueline’s watch at one of the bullfighters. On being informed about this anecdote, Gili Esteve gave to Picasso two watches «from Pepe-Hillo». Picasso thanked him by giving him a pocket notebook full of scenes and texts alluding to The Bullfighting that Gili published in facsimile. This is linked to the legend that Pepe-Hillo was the inventor of “the luck of the watch”, which consisted of showing the bull a wristwatch just before killing it to be aware that its time was up.

Tauromachy or the Art of bullfighting by Pepe-Hillo, published by Gustavo Gili and with the illustrations of Picasso, ended up being printed on 25th October 1963 and went on the market on December 11th. If you come to the Museum before February 24th, you can not only see the prints that the artist did for this book in the exhibition «Pablo Picasso and the publishers Gustavo Gili» but also the portrait of Pepe-Hillo that forms part of the permanent collection.

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