Fernando Botero paintings are truly unique and easily recognizable. When once asked to define an artistic style, he replied that the test should be a humble orange. As he explained, despite universal qualities of size and shape, an orange depicted by one artist would be impossible to mistake for an orange painted by another. “The spectator”, Botero said, “isn’t merely a witness to the fruit but to the style… Whenever people stand in front of my paintings or in front of my sculpture, they not only see a pear or an apple… they immediately recognize a Botero”.
Few artists have created such an immediately recognizable style as Botero. Ever since his first exhibition in 1948, Colombia’s most celebrated living painter and sculptor has been known for his subject’s proportional exaggerations and distortions. His signature style, also known as Boterismo, relies on bloated exaggerated volume in order to represent anything from political criticism to humor, depending on what the goal is. These hyper-inflated, voluptuous figures form one of the most unique bodies of work in 20th- and 21st-century art. The social commentary evinced in Botero paintings also contains an incisive sense of humor and human empathy that makes his oeuvre deeply humanist.
Botero studied art in Europe and his education, particularly in Italy, had a significant impact on his style. Enthralled by the works of the high Renaissance and Spanish Baroque, he gained a solid art, historical and philosophical grounding that continues to inform his practice. Another important influence in his style was Mexican Muralism and its monumental scale of the human forms and the social commentary imbued in these pieces. Having a decisive impact on Botero, it influenced him to begin painting his figures with the exaggerated proportions for which he is known. As Botero describes his own work: “All the elements of my work as a painter and sculptor spring from the same spirit: namely, from my passion for volumes.”
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Card Players, 1991 (detail), via pinterest.com; Fernando Botero - Picnic, 1989 (detail), via aifb.com
In this genuine portrait from 1959, Botero gives an ironic point of view of this traditional subject, inspired by the art of Michelangelo, Goya, and Velázquez. The painting Mona Lisa, Age Twelve is a very sensual work that highlights the volume of the depicted girl. On the art of paraphrasing famous works, Botero explained: “These themes are so important to me as they become popular and more or less belonging to all. Only then can I do something different with them. Sometimes I just want to understand a painting in a more profound and complete way, its technique and the spirit that leads it.”
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Mona Lisa, Age Twelve, 1959, via modernart2011.com
During the 1960s, priests were a recurring subject in Fernando Botero paintings. The priests began to appear in his paintings for several reasons: the influence of religious painting of the Renaissance that he has studied in Italy, but also the fact that it is reminiscent of the Catholic and conservative Antioquian society in which Botero grew up, in which the power exercised by the Church ranged from state politics to daily habits. In his famous piece Dead Bishops, Botero depicted a mountain of dead bishops one on the other, with no apparent trait of violence, simply lying in a placid collective dream where some still cross with their hands and hold firmly their possessions. The image is at the same time absurd and poetic, imbued with a charming sense of humor that is characteristic of Botero art.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Dead Bishops, 1965
“One day I painted a still life. That day I became an artist”, wrote Fernando Botero. The still life is one of his most developed subjects which he considered to have attained the highest degree of excellence. What is unique in Fernando Botero still lives is that he paints quotidian objects such as fruits, flowers, and sweets with the same characteristics as all the other subjects of his other paintings. In the painting Still Life from 1970, Botero chooses to depict a voluptuous watermelon, a true icon of Latin American art, as the focal point of the painting. By exaggerating its proportions, he is reinforcing his unique style of monumentalizing quotidian objects.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Naturaleza Muerta, 1970
The subject of nude bathers is a recurring theme in the history of art. Pierre Bonnard often sketched his nude models in or near a bathtub, using a towel, combing their hair, looking at their own reflection in the mirror. Bonnard’s nudes have inspired Fernando Botero to paint many intimate and iconic compositions. The painting Homage to Bonnard was created in 1972 in his signature “deformed” style as the artist described it himself in an interview published in the 1970s. Botero presents a mythological scene in a new setting, perhaps a middle-class modern house bathroom.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Homage to Bonnard, 1972, via sothebys.com
Botero is regarded as a great storyteller, especially when inspired by scenes from his native Colombia. Often depicting scenes of leisure activity, his satirical renderings may often seem humorous at first, but are often laden with social and political commentary. In the painting Dancing in Colombia, Botero depicts a lively café filled with music and dance. The room seems overcrowded, and details such as the cigarettes and fruit on the floor suggest that the night is long in this seedy place. One can imagine the intoxicating confluence of loud music and odors of sweat, tobacco, liquor, and cheap cologne that fill the space.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Dancing in Columbia, 1980, via metmuseum.com
The representation of pure joie de vivre is undoubtedly one of the most significant underlying motifs in Fernando Botero's oeuvre. Inspired by Manet's Dejeuner sur l' Herbe of 1963, Botero frequently revisited the Sunday picnic scene ever since the from 1966. Revolving around the same theme, all the picnic paintings give a different emotion to the viewer. In each of these paintings, Botero provides an endless number of readings, toying with the viewer. In the painting Picnic from 1989, the luncheon is placed against the background of the valley with trees, shrubs and mountains, even a smoking volcano. The man is depicted sleeping before touching any food, and there are more glasses than people, insinuating a situation to surprise the viewer.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Picnic, 1989
The theme of men sitting around a table playing cards is well known in art history. As an extremely educated artist who is well known for his re-interpretations of famous paintings, Botero has explored this subject several times. In the painting Card Players from 1991 brings together several themes that have re-appeared in his work for decades such as the psychology of the institution of bordellos, which were much more than places of carnal pleasure. Being a part of the game, the seated figure of the nude woman on the right is not sexual. She makes us remember that we are voyeurs on this scene.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Card Players, 1991, via penccil.com
The traditional family has always been a constant source of exploration for Botero. When asked what he considered the most Latin American theme in his painting, Botero declared the family to be the subject “par excellence” for its complex composition that admits surprise solutions, as well as its historical resonance. In the painting A Family from 1995, Botero uses a carefully calibrated palette and depicts mother nursing her boy while her older son leans on her thigh, appearing as the archetype of woman as nurturer. Surrounded by two more children, an attentive nanny and a large cat, she appears a calming anchor in the midst of domestic chaos.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - A Family, 1995, via blouinartinfo.com
The painting The Street is a nostalgic tribute to the artist’s hometown, but he also takes inspiration from his childhood spent in Medellín to recreate a typical sleepy, mid-century Latin American town complete with crowded narrow streets populated by a now familiar coterie of popular types - priests, prostitutes, businessmen, children, and mothers. The characters are depicted in the artist's signature style of rotund figures suspended within the fissures of reality and pictorial illusionism. Botero's familiar neighbors casually encounter each other along the tight, bustling street stopping briefly only to greet each other or merely exchange a glance on the way.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - The Street, 1995, via christies.com
In the pieces titled The Death of Pablo Escobar, Botero depicts the story of the notorious drug lord. The artist presents his version of his death, representing Escobar on the rooftops, falling after being hit by several bullets, in front of a landscape that corresponds to the city of Antioch. The intention of the artist was not to exalt the character or the scene, but to capture the recent political violence in his country. Later in 2006, Botero created a piece Pablo Escobar, Dead where the drug lord is depicted lying on the rooftop of a house, riddled with bullets, but appearing as if sleeping.
Featured image: Fernando Botero - Death of Pablo Escobar, 1999
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