The man who designed Spain (also designed matchboxes)

José María Cruz Novillo (b. Cuenca, 1936)

Exhibitor : José Ventura García

Click here for Spanish language version


In 1968 the Spanish Match company Fósforos del Pirineo S. A. (FOPSA) issued some beautiful, highly colourful sets of matchboxes using very modern designs which had been created by José María Cruz Novillo, the man who designed Spain.

Born in Cuenca in 1936, he gave up his Law studies in 1957 and started working as a cartoonist in the Madrid company Publicidad Clarin. This is where his stratospheric artistic design career began, leading to the formation of his own design studio in 1969  Today his designs are very well known not only in Spain but also across the world, including corporate images for companies like Correos (Post Office), Tesoro Público (treasury), Comunidad de Madrid (Madrid local government), PSOE (politcal party), COPE (Radio Station), El Mundo (newspaper), El Economista (newspaper), Antena 3 Radio, banknotes for the Banco de España, and the Fundación ONCE (National Institute for the Blind) amongst many others. Sr Cruz Novillo is a true pioneer of contemporary Spanish design.

The FOPSA series

Let’s go back to 1968 when Sr Novillo had been working for 11 years in the design industry and he was contracted by FOPSA to work on their new series of matchboxes. FOPSA was founded in 1967, the same year that Sr Novillo started his new career as a designer.

Amongst the many series that he designed I want to highlight four : ABC Animales, El Belén, El Circo y Rompecabezas Pop, which for me are the most appealing in terms of their variety, colour and creative imagination.

Admiring his designs

Let’s take a look at one of these series from FOPSA : El Circo (The Circus). We’ll show every part of the set in order to appreciate the striking drawings which came from the mind and hands of José María Cruz Novillo.

Firstly let’s look at the presentation box from this set, which is made of cardboard and shows a minstrel with his medieval stringed instrument. The company name and series name are printed on the front of the box, and the back also has the company name and also Sr Novillo’s. There is a red inner tray which contains all the matchboxes 

This is a set of 20 card matchboxes, each box has an individual drawing depicting a character from the circus such as the clown (el payaso), the illusionist (el ilusionista), the acrobats (los acrobatas) and the sword swallower (el tragasables). The drawing is on the front of the box together with “Cruz Novillo + Olmos” (Luís del Olmo Alonso was the other artist), and on the back is the name of the company.

In total FOPSA issued over 20 series designed by Cruz Novillo. Although he never again designed matchboxes (so far), his work in 1968 undoubtedly contributed to the success of the match company which finally closed its doors in 1992.

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