Fernando Botero, the most universal Colombian painter and sculptor, known for his voluptuous figures of large volumes, "not fat", as he used to clarify, died on Friday in Monaco, the city where he lived, at the age of 91 due to pneumonia. He leaves a visible legacy of more than 3,000 paintings and 300 sculptures in dozens of museums, as well as squares and public spaces around the world. The Colombian president, Gustavo Petro, dismissed him, describing him as "the painter of our traditions and flaws, the painter of our virtues. The painter of our violence and peace. Of the dove a thousand times rejected and a thousand times placed on his throne". His work is one of the most recognizable in the Latin American tradition, with an accentuated representation of corporeality, a figurative art that the artist himself defines as a "divergent expressive form", as the Queen Sofia Museum states on its website.
Born in Medellín in 1932, Botero's first contact with drawing was at the age of 15 as an illustrator for the newspaper El Colombiano, while he started painting with watercolors. He was only 19 years old when he presented his first exhibition at the Leo Matiz gallery in Bogotá, influenced by Mexican muralists such as Diego Rivera or David Alfaro Siquieros, as well as colonial baroque altarpieces.
The second prize he obtained at the Saló Nacional d'Artistes allowed him to travel to Europe, where he resided for four years, which he dedicated to studying at the Academy of San Marco, in Florence, and at the Royal Academy of San Fernando in Madrid , where he arrived "as a poor student". Although his great passion was unleashed in Italy, where he discovered the works of the Renaissance. He was attracted by artists such as Giotto, Masaccio or Piero Della Francesca, an imprint that would be indelible and that he showed from the beginning with works he painted in 1955, on his return, with techniques and themes inherited from this art, like the horses in imitation of the battles of Paolo Ucello.
After returning to America, he lived in Mexico and the United States, where he consolidated his figurative proposal in which classical art is mixed with contemporary works. From these years is Mandolina on a chair, one of the first works, with which he rehearsed the physical disproportion by drawing an instrument with an inflated body with a hole for the sound that is smaller than usual. "Between the small details and the generosity of the exterior distribution, a new dimension appears, more volumetric, more monumental, more extravagant", explained the artist.
Botero has since used this style profusely in works in which he both drew everyday scenes in Colombian train stations and satirized dictators, the ecclesiastical hierarchy or the political class, as in The Presidential Family, always maintaining his style characterized by neutral figures with a kind face. He also reflected his passion for the classics by reinterpreting works such as Van Eyck's Arnolfini marriage or Mona Lisa at the age of 12. "I am the painter of the volume, not of fat women", pointed out the author a few years ago at the presentation of a book about his work.
During the last decades of his career he left aside the primacy of the aesthetic role of art to include subjects of denunciation such as drug trafficking, portraying Pablo Escobar, the guerrillas or torture during the Iraq war, which he reflected in the series of paintings about the Abu Ghraib prison, in 2003. "The moment came when I felt the moral obligation to leave a witness to an irrational moment in our history", stated the artist in words collected by the newspaper El Tiempo.
His sculpture, also marked by volume and sensuality, occupied a very important place in his career, which began in the sixties to develop it from the eighties in Pietrasanta, a city in Tuscany where he spent long periods of his life, along with New York, Medellin and Monaco, where he died. His hometown, Medellin, is currently a reflection of his generosity, converted into an open-air museum with dozens of sculptures donated by the artist.
His sculptures can also be found in Barcelona, where the Raval cat and The horse are exhibited, located since 1992 in terminal 2 of El Prat airport. In Madrid you can see La dona del mirral, in Plaza Colón; La mà, in Passeig de la Castellana, and El rapte d'Europa, in Terminal 1 of Barajas.
Botero began exhibiting in the 1960s in the USA and took off in the 1970s with successful exhibitions in the main galleries of Paris, London and Beijing, where in 2015 he held his first comprehensive and retrospective exhibition. His last exhibition was in Murcia in 2022, in a Spain that also marked the artist negatively, since it was in Madrid where his third son, Pedrito, died in 1974 at the age of four.
"I often think about death," Boter said in an interview with AFP in 2012, "and it saddens me to leave this world and not be able to work anymore, because I enjoy my work."