Ignacio Sánchez Mejías
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Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (6 June 1891, Seville – 13 August 1934, Madrid) was a famous Spanish bullfighter. (other name for bullfighter is matador). He was also a writer. He enjoyed enormous popularity — he was attractive to women, admired by men, and a sympathetic personality to artists, especially those of the Generación del 27.
When he died after a goring (cornada) in the Plaza of Manzanares, he was memorialized by Miguel Hernández, Rafael Alberti and other famous poets, but probably the best of these works is Federico García Lorca's Llanto por la muerte de Ignacio Sánchez Mejías ("Weeping for the Death of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías"), for many the best Spanish elegy since the Coplas por la muerte de su padre ("Verses for the death of his father") by Jorge Manrique.
Seville: Childhood and youth
Sánchez Mejías was born in 1891 in the Calle de la Palma, Seville. He was the son of a rich and stern doctor who insisted that he follow in his footsteps, but he never studied medicine. He received his high school diploma (bachillerato) by examination as an adult. Before, in the Escolapios (Catholic schools) he played truant in order to play at bullfighting with other children, among them José Gómez, years later called Joselito, the greatest bullfighter of all time and without a doubt the most important influence in the life of Ignacio Sánchez.
To America and back to Spain; banderillero
At the age of 17 he embarked with another youth as a stowaway on a ship for New York City. Detained at immigration, the police at first mistook them for anarchists, but Sánchez's brother Aurelio, who lived in Mexico, was able to secure their release. Sánchez took a job in Veracruz, but he could not forget having played at bullfighting in the sandy ground near the Torre del Oro in Seville; he made his debut in the ring as a banderillero in Morelia in 1910.
Back in Spain, he appeared in Madrid in September 1913, and on 21 June 1914 in his native Seville. He received a grave goring, which broke his femur. That he did not die was attributable to his youth and his physical strength, but the injury and its consequences delayed his career for years.
He continued as an outstanding banderillero, according to those who knew. These included Belmonte, Rafael Gómez "El Gallo", and the youngest of los Gallos, his childhood friend Joselito, with whom he had become related by his marriage in 1915 to Joselito's sister, Lola Gómez Ortega. In the next three years he was a member of Joselito's team, as the premier banderillero in Spain. His brother-in-law was also exceptional with the banderillas, and in this school Ignacio Sánchez Mejías was formed as a matador.
Matador de toros
In 1919 he took his alternativa in Barcelona at the hands of Joselito and with Belmonte also in the ring. His alternativa was confirmed in Madrid in April 1920, and already the characteristics he was known for throughout his career had appeared: very technical, very valiant, very popular, and with the ability to excite any crowd by his courage and his arrogance. He contracted more than 100 corridas for 1920, and only the occurrence of two more gorings prevented him from making all the appearances.
Still, Talavera was waiting. On 16 May he was alternating there with Joselito when the bull Bailaor gave his brother-in-law a tremendous, unexpected goring. While Joselito was taken to the infirmary, Sánchez killed the bull. Afterwards when he went to the infirmary to see his friend, he was already dead. He watched over the corpse that night, in tears. The photograph of Sánchez overwhelmed by grief supporting his head with an open hand and with the other caressing the face of the reclining Joselito, tranquil in his glory, is perhaps the most emotional in the history of tauromaquia.
Love life and intellectual life; contact with Generación del 27
Perhaps the memory of Joselito led him to a liaison with the girlfriend of the dead matador, Encarnación López (La Argentinita). She was an intelligent, attractive woman, an exceptional performer and great dancer, as was her sister Pilar. Although Sánchez had had many tempestuous affairs, like the time in Mexico when a husband caught him in bed with his wife and he had to make a hasty getaway, it was for La Argentinita only that he would leave his wife Lola — from the sister to the girlfriend.
In 1925 they made their relationship official, but time had passed. They were both famous, rich, intelligent, attractive, and, above all, in love. There was no divorce in Spain, but Sánchez and La Argentinita had two children together, whom he adored. He established them in a separate room in his property Pino Montano. In Madrid he had a room in the Palace, although he lived in the house of La Argentinita.
Through her he became a good friend of García Lorca. She had set to music "Los cuatro muleros" and other popular pieces for him. Through her he also met great musicians such as Manuel de Falla, and through García Lorca Jorge Guillén, Rafael Alberti, José Bergamín, Dámaso Alonso, Gerardo Diego and others.
In 1923 he did not fight. In 1924, after recovering his reputation, the bullfighting promoters reached an agreement not to pay him more than 7,000 pesetas for a fight. Sánchez insisted on applying the law of supply and demand, and in reprisal they removed him from the Festival of Seville in 1925. But he, with the agreement of the matador, entered the ring apparently spontaneously, impeccably dressed, and placed three exceptional pairs (of banderillas) in a Santa Coloma bull. The public acclaimed him, but the promoters set the critics against him.
Critic, poet, actor, sportsman
Sánchez then became a critic of his own faenas in La Unión. He held his own in this war of nerves and of image, but after several serious gorings, he got tired and left the circuit in 1927. That year he returned to Seville and arranged a meeting of young poets at his estate who wanted to pay homage to Luis de Góngora in his tricentenary. Here was born the famous Generación del 27. In their best-known group photo, Sánchez appears with his ever-present tipped hat, elegant, smiling.
He wrote several theater works, including Sinrazón, on a psychoanalytic theme, which María Guerrero introduced with great critical success, and which was translated into various languages. Also Zaya, an autobiographical piece on bullfighting and metaphysics. Other works included Ni más ni menos, a poetic farce; Soledad, an outline; and Las calles de Cádiz, a grand musical comedy for La Argentinita, with street urchins from La Isla, and including the popular songs of García Lorca.
He also led a conference on tauromaquia at Columbia University in New York. He was a movie actor, a polo player, an auto-racer, a novelist, a "poet", a friend of General Sanjurgo, an unsuccessful promoter of an airport in Seville, president of Real Betis soccer club, of the Red Cross, etc.
The end: Return to the bulls and to love affairs
In 1934 he returned to bullfighting. Earlier he had had a torrid affair with the French Hispanist Marcelle Auclair, whom he had met at the home of Jorge Guillén. His lovesickness was so clear to García Lorca that he wanted him to end the affair because he was convinced that La Argentinita would kill them both.
Sánchez followed Auclair to Paris, where he ran into her husband. She was afraid, and did not want to make a commitment. She returned the following year to see him fight and triumph in Santander. Thereafter their history does not continue, because it was interrupted by Sánchez's death.
Domingo Ortega suffered an automobile accident, and his proxy, Dominguín, asked Sánchez to substitute for him in Manzanares, on 11 August 1934. This came at a bad time for Sánchez, but because the bulls were great he did not want to seem like he was avoiding them. He had no car, no hotel, not even a cuadrilla (bullfighting team). For the first time in his life, he turned to the lottery and drew two tickets with the numbers of the bulls of Ayala that he was scheduled to fight. The first, number 16, Granadino, docile, thin-horned and coarse-skinned, nevertheless gored him.
He did not want to be operated on in the miserable infirmary and asked to be taken back to Madrid, but the ambulance took several hours and the trip went very badly. Two days later he was diagnosed with gangrene. He died, in pain and delirium, on the morning of the 13th.
- There is a street that bears his name in the Feria de Abril, Sevilla.
- The Valencian sculptor Mariano Benlliure included him among the figures carrying the coffin of Joselito, in the mausoleum in the cemetery of San Fernando in Seville, since 1926. Ignacio Sánchez Mejías also reposes near the monument.
- He is a subject of a number of documentary movies (Ignacio Sánchez Mejías on IMDb) and at least one dramatized biography (Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, el torero renacentista, forthcoming).
- Was once president of Seville football club Real Betis.
- Nestor Lujan, "When we come to the biography of Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, we must employ a different tone from that used for any other bullfighter who ever existed. For Ignacio Sánchez Mejías was without equal as a bullfighter and as a man", quoted in Rafael López-Pedraza "Reflections on the Duende"
- "Ignacio Sánchez Mejías: El torero de 27"
- "The best-known poem of Federico García Lorca is 'Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías'", from article "Bullfighting" Encyclopædia Britannica Online
- Rafael López-Pedraza, op. cit.