In 1991, Carmen Herrero, director of Madrid’s Municipal Museum, organized a large and surprising exhibition, for the times, in the city titled “Festival Posters from the Museum’s Municipal collection, 1932-1991”. Although 118 posters were displayed on a variety of themes, the celebration of the San Isidro Festival predominated with a total of 90 posters, including first prizes and runner ups (several poster versions were often edited each year).

The first poster, dated 1932, celebrated the first anniversary of the Spanish Republic. Others were dedicated, sporadically, to the festivals of the Dove and Moncloa, New Year, Social Assistance Services, Board of Charities and Fireman’s Day. Only the Carnival posters acquired a frequency and quality recognized in those early years. From 1947 with the first San Isidro Festival poster a constant and permanent annual competition (May 15th) is initiated to celebrate the San Isidro patron saint. Merlo Isidro Quintana was born in Madrid in the eleventh century, a farm worker or a “labrador” (in Spanish a term corresponding to the local appellation used in Manchego villages).

With the premise of the Graphic Pioneers project in the 1939-1975 period, 23 posters are selected where illustrators show in their work surprising joy and conceptuality, a far cry from the religious influence that could have derived from such a conditioning theme as a saint. Moreover, with the more obvious topics such as Madrid heraldry, historicist traditionalism, iconic and recurrent architecture, the designers produced graphic presentations more consistent with the times beyond the Spanish borders of then. Each composition is a 70 x 100 cm format where each illustration was conceived as a design and the design nourished from the illustrator’s trade. Graphic designers in fact.

The idea that emanated from these competitions –or briefs– was twofold: its use and exploitation to publicise, and the creation of a graphic heritage saved –jealously– in the municipal collections.

Message received loud and clear! The times are now different, current posters –most of the time– show only complementary vignettes accompanying typographic information, with their ephemeral mission of publicising and do not generate any artistic heritage, which is the true legacy left to us by these graphic pioneers.

By Javier García del Olmo

* San Isidro is a popular annual festival to celebrate the patron saint of Madrid and appears in several Goya paintings.