10 Things You Should Know About Fernando Botero

By Google Arts & Culture

Guerrilla de Eliseo Velásquez (1988) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

Fernando Botero is a Colombian artist with a penchant for voluminous characters and an explosive color palette. His signature style, known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volumes, which has been used to represent political criticism or humor depending on the piece.

Monalisa (1978) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

He is one of the most recognized living artists from Latin America and came to prominence when he won the first prize at the Salón de Artistas Colombianos in 1958. Now in his mid-80s, here we share 10 facts about Botero to help understand his work even more.

Mujer pequeña (1975) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

Botero was enrolled to train as a bullfighter

Botero’s uncle, who took on an important role in the artist’s life after the death of his father, enrolled him in a training school for bullfighters. Botero was just 12 years old, and his uncle soon realized that his nephew was far more interested in drawing and painting bulls than in fighting them. Botero’s first works were watercolors of bulls and matadors and ended up being sold by a man who traded tickets to bullfights.

El presidente (1997) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

One of his first jobs was creating illustrations for a local newspaper

In 1948, when Botero was just 16, he had his first illustrations published in one of the most important newspapers in Medellín, El Colombiano. The money he made from these allowed Botero to finance his studies of art. In the 1950s, the artist moved to Madrid to study at the Art Academy of San Fernando, but began to face financial struggles so he sold some drawings and paintings on the outskirts of the Museo del Prado to make some money.

El ladrón (1980) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

Seeing the work of the Old Masters was a turning point for him

By the age of 20, Botero had won second prize in Bogotá’s Salón Nacional de Artistas. To celebrate, the artist booked a boat ticket to Europe, traveling with a group of fellow artists. He spent a year learning about the artists of the Renaissance. In Spain he visited galleries and copied the paintings of Old Masters, visited the Louvre in Paris and then journeyed to Florence where he studied the Italian Renaissance. This was the first time Botero saw European art first hand and not through reproductions. It became life-changing for the artist and spurred him on to throw himself deeper into his work.

Naturaleza muerta con violín (1999) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

His real breakthrough moment though came with a mandolin

Inspiration came to Botero in his early years through his knowledge and experiences of Latin America and Europe. Influenced by the Spanish artists Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris, Botero also began experimenting with form and shape. His "eureka" moment came in 1956 while he was living in Mexico City; the artist painted a mandolin with an unusually tiny sound hole, leading the instrument to take on exaggerated proportions. Botero was excited by these seemingly new possibilities and it ignited his lifelong exploration of volume.

Guitarra (1980) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

Botero sees his plump figures as evoking the “sensuality of form”

Throughout his career, Botero has been adamant that he does not “paint fat people” as many critics have suggested. Rather he sees what he paints as volume, once describing his work as exploring the “sensuality of form”. His portly figures have seen him tackle a diverse array of subjects including reinterpretations of Old Master paintings, Latin American street scenes, domestic life, and satirical portraits of political figures. The volume of his characters allows the artist to emphasize and highlight certain features, increasing their impact.

Una familia (1989) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

The artist has an impressive art collection

As well as a creator of art, Botero is a known collector and he owns a substantial number of paintings from the European Masters of the 19th and 20th-century. In fact between 1990 and 2000, Botero donated more than 300 works, including some of his own to the Museum of Antioquia in Medellín, as well as to the Banco de la República in Bogotá. This collection went on to form the basis of what is now known as the Botero Museum in Colombia’s capital city, which has become one of Latin America’s most important international art collections.

Reclining Figure (1984) by Fernando BOTEROThe Museum of Modern Art, Saitama

Botero doesn’t just paint, he’s also a sculptor

Botero is most known for his paintings, but he is also an accomplished sculptor creating striking forms which feel like an extension of his two-dimensional works. The artist one said: “I had wanted to be a sculptor throughout life, but to do so I had to stop painting.” As a result the artist has made replicas of his favorite paintings so they can also be enjoyed in the outside by more people, and as such he has donated pieces to the streets of his native Medellín, and larger works to New York, Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Jerusalem, among many other places.

Pareja bailando (1987) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

One of Botero’s sculptures was bombed by a terrorist group

In 1995, a terrorist group later linked to infamous druglord Pablo Escobar, placed a bomb underneath Botero’s sculpture Pájaro (Bird), which he had donated to the city of Medellín. Around 30 people were killed and 200 more injured and while a motive couldn’t be confirmed, it came during a time in Colombia where there were serious security threats facing the Colombian Government. At the time Botero's son, Fernando Botero Zea, was Colombia's Minister of Defense and he flew from Bogota to Medellin to supervise the investigation of the explosion. Botero’s own response was to donate La Paloma de la Paz (The Dove of Peace) to Medellín, a sculpture which is now placed alongside the mangled remains of the earlier work.

Manuel Marulanda "Tiro fijo" (1999) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

He self-titled himself “the most Colombian of Colombian artists

Botero’s passion for his country is so huge, he’s given himself the title of “the most Colombian of Colombian artists” and it seems the country and the world agree. There are squares, roads, and plaza’s named after him in his home city of Medellín and his art features in the biggest museums throughout Latin America, including the aptly named Botero Museum.

Bananos (1990) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

Botero has several residences, each one dedicated to a specific artistic medium

When you’re a successful artist, there comes a time where you can give into every whim you have, which is exactly what Botero has done during his multi-decade career. Currently the artist has houses in several countries, not as holiday retreats, rather each one is dedicated to a specific artistic medium. In Paris, Botero paints his large oil paintings, in Monte Carlo and New York he uses pastel oils and watercolors, in Zihuatanejo and Colombia he draws, and at his home in Tuscany he creates his bronze sculptures.

Mujer con pájaro (1973) by Fernando BoteroMuseo Botero, Bogotá

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