Juan Pedro Domecq Solis: Fighting-bull breeder who developed the concept of the 'toro artista'


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The Independent Online

Modernisation of an activity as traditional as bullfighting in Spain sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that was what Juan Pedro Domecq Solis fought for all his life.

The owner of the Veragua, one of Spain's oldest and most prestigious bullfighting operations, Domecq Solis's biggest single innovation was the concept of the toro artista. This term is difficult to translate, but basically means that rather than pure physical strength, a bull's aesthetic qualities, as well as its capacity for resistance right through to its death, are what count in a fight.

To that end Domecq Solis oversaw the creation of the first computer programs and databases designed to improve the genetics of fighting-bull stock, and advocated the controversial concept of taurodromos – installations where bulls could be "trained" before going into the ring.

From 1984-94, as the president of the fighting-bull breeders' association (UCLT), he tried to drive through these changes, which went hand in hand with his much-needed modernisation of the UCLT. He secured an agreement with the ministry of agriculture over the genealogical tables of fighting bulls, and helped set up the first fully international congresses for breeders. He was not just a great organiser and – in comparison with bullfighting's generally conservative outlook – free-thinker. He also wrote, and in the two years since it was published, his book, Del Toreo a la Bravura ["From Bullfighting to Virtuosity"] has become an important reference work for fighting-bull breeders.

In an extract published after his death in the newspaper El Mundo, Domecq Solis wrote that, in his opinion, when a bull charged, it should enable "the bullfighter to create his own personal style... in a fight where aesthetic and artistic elements are fundamental." In other words, it should not just be a straight trial of animal strength versus human skill. Whether bullfighting and the slow, deliberate killing of an animal can ever be a thing of beauty is a hugely controversial ethical issue, to the point where it is now facing a ban in Catalunya. Where bullfighting survives, though, Domecq Solis's emphasis on its visual qualities is now widely accepted.

Such a radical rethink of the nature of bullfighting did not go down well with some fans, and in a recent interview, Domecq Solis – a solitary, slightly melancholy figure whose family was blighted by illnesses and fatal accidents – said: "Now I am in the final part of my life, I look back and see that there is something I did not do well. Despite God giving me the capacity to express myself easily, I've not been able to communicate exactly what my beliefs are. I am leaving satisfied, but misunderstood."

Less than 24 hours after the interview was broadcast on Spain's specialist bullfighting TV channel, Domecq Solis was killed in a traffic accident close to his ranch, Lo Alvaro, in south-western Spain.

Juan Pedro Domecq Solis, bull-breeder: born Seville, Spain 10 April 1942; died Higuera de la Selva, Spain 18 April 2011.