• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 2005

    Latin American Sale Evening Session

    28 - 29 May 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 4

    Fernando Botero (Colombian b. 1932)

    The Sleeping Bishop (The Dozing Archbishop)

    Price Realised  

    Fernando Botero (Colombian b. 1932)
    The Sleeping Bishop (The Dozing Archbishop)
    signed 'Botero' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    10 x 35½ in. (25.4 x 90.2 cm.)
    Painted in 1957.


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    In 1958, at the age of only 26, Fernando Botero had his second solo exhibition in the United States at the Gres Gallery in Washington DC. Virtually overnight, the artist's fate was sealed; he was to become one of the most recognized and successful artists of his time. At a moment when abstraction still dominated the art world in the United States, Botero's robust figurative work almost sold out on opening night. The Sleeping Bishop was among the many colorful and unusual paintings Botero showed at Gres Gallery. Selected for the catalogue cover of this momentous exhibition, The Sleeping Bishop depicts a plump little clergyman resting on his side accompanied by an apple. An early exploration of one of Botero's favored themes, the holy figure seems a surprising subject for a twentieth century artist. Not personally devout, Botero explains his interest in religion in purely artistic terms: "The reason I painted priests is very clear. I was completely involved and in love with the Quattrocento. But of course I couldn't paint the personality of the Quattrocento now. Priests were somehow contemporary but they were out of the Middle Ages."(1) Botero's love of Quattrocento art began while he lived in Italy in 1953, where he was able to see first hand the works of the great Renaissance masters. Indeed, many of Botero's early paintings are reinterpretations of images by Andrea Mantegna, Leonardo da Vinci and Piero della Francesca among others. By depicting priests, bishops, Madonnas and saints, Botero inserts himself into a long tradition in art. Yet, it is the way the artist renders these subjects that makes them distinctly contemporary.

    For The Sleeping Bishop, Botero chose an elongated horizontal composition similar in shape to a predella, the narrative panel found at the base of many altarpieces. Botero's predella, however, contains a humorous image in contrast to the many austere scenes normally reserved for this space. Proportionally, the slumbering bishop seems childlike; the apple at his feet, undoubtedly referring to the Fall of Man, is nearly half the size of his head. This disregard for appropriate scale and size is another aspect Botero relates to his love of the Quattrocento, as he stated, "I don't believe I have to follow the proportions of reality. These arbitrary proportions, the feeling of monumentality, are very Italian, very Quattrocento." Clearly, however, this bishop is more proportionally analogous to Botero's later figures than to any found in the quattrocento. The Sleeping Bishop shows Botero first exploring the bulbous forms that would come to define his signature style. The visible brushstrokes and build up of paint on the surface of the canvas are also distinct to Botero's early work. The more painterly approach applied here disappears in Botero's later polished images. The Sleeping Bishop thus offers a rare glimpse of the hand of Botero at a critical moment in the artist's development.

    Diana Bramham

    1) Fernando Botero in C. J. McCabe, Fernando Botero, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979, 14.

    Provenance

    Gres Gallery, Washington D.C.
    Miguel Aranguren collection, Boston.


    Literature

    Exhibition catalogue, Fernando Botero, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 1979, p. 42-43, no. 1 (illustrated).
    Exhibition catalogue, The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970, New York, The Bronx Museum of Arts, 1988, p. 210-211, no. 146 (illustrated in color).
    Exhibition catalogue, Latin Viewpoints: Into the Mainstream, Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, 1996, p. 86 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Washington, D.C., Pan American Union (OAS Headquarters), Fernando Botero, 1957.
    Washington, D.C., Gres Gallery, Fernando Botero, 1957.
    Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Fernando Botero, December 1979 - March 1980. This exhibition later traveled to Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, March - May 1980.
    Washington, D.C., Museum of Modern Art of Latin America, Five Colombian Masters, March- May 1985.
    New York, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Latin American Spirit: Art and Artists in the United States, 1920-1970, September 1988- January 1989, no. 146. This exhibition later traveled to El Paso, El Paso Museum of Art, February- April 1989; San Diego, San Diego Museum of Art, May- July 1989; San Juan, Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, August- October 1989; and Vero Beach, Center for the Arts, January- March 1990.
    Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Latin Viewpoints: Into the Mainstream of Art, August- November 1996.