The voluptuous female form is Fernando Botero's constant muse. She appears in canvas, bronze and stone throughout the artist's long, prolific career. Although Botero began exploring this subject in his paintings of the 1950s, his fleshy figures do not materialize in sculpture until the 1970s. Mujer fumando is an iconic example of Botero's mature investigation of his most beloved theme in three dimensions. A young woman lies on her stomach propped up on her arms while daintily holding a cigarette in her right hand and playfully kicking up her leg. Viewed from the front, the woman unabashedly reveals her plump breasts through the cross of her arms while nonchalantly gazing up into space. When seen from behind, the woman becomes all undulating curves, beginning with her hair which falls in neat waves down her back and is followed by the repeating rolls of flesh on her buttocks and legs. Mujer fumando captures what Botero considers the essence of his work. As he once stated, "What I am concerned with is form--creating smooth, rounded surfaces that emphasize the sensuality of my work." (1) More so than in his paintings, sculpture allows Botero to create a tangible sensuality, exemplified here in the woman's corporal fullness.
Botero created Mujer fumando during a period of intense sculptural activity in the 1980s at his then new studio in Pietrasanta, Italy. Pietrasanta is a town steeped in sculptural tradition; indeed many of the greatest artists of all times such as Michelangelo and Donatello came here in search of the perfect stone in the nearby quarries for their work. (2) In Pietrasanta, Botero immersed himself in the town's heritage, exploring these same quarries for the marble which he would transform into his now famous rotund figures.
While Mujer fumando is unmistakably Botero in style, she is also part of a long lineage of female nudes in art. Voluptuous women appear in art throughout history from the Venus of Willendorf to the Renaissance and Baroque goddesses of Titian and Rubens to the smooched figures of contemporary artist Jenny Saville. Botero, who devoted himself at a young age to studying the work of European masters, is well versed in this tradition of depicting the female form. More specifically, Mujer Fumando, refers to representations of the reclining nude. Two of the most famous examples of such a type seen from behind include the Rokeby Venus and the Grand Odalisque, by Diego Velázquez and Jean Auguste-Dominique Ingres respectively, two artists whom Botero claims as seminal influences. In these paintings, Velázquez and Ingres place their figures on their sides and elongate the sinuous curve of the back. Although Botero expands rather than lengthens the back of the woman in this sculpture, the pose and coquetry of Velázquez's and Ingres's figures remain important precedents. Perhaps another source of inspiration for Botero's Mujer fumando is the French Rococo artist François Boucher's portrait of Louise O'Murphy lying on a sofa. In Reclining Nude, Miss O'Murphy casually lounges on her stomach while propping herself up on her hands. Rather than the one long curve of the back, as seen in Velázquez's and Ingres's images, Boucher accentuates the plumpness of his young model's arms, buttocks and legs. Like Botero's woman, Miss O'Murphy becomes a soft pillow of palpable flesh. Boucher heightens the erotic atmosphere of the work by depicting his figure with her legs spread and unaware of her observer.(3) By contrast, Botero's woman seems the modern day remake of Boucher's. Rather than coy eighteenth century innocence, Mujer fumando exhibits all of the bravado of a modern woman in control of her sexuality. She smokes, relaxes and is indifferent to her many observers.
1) E.J. Sullivan, Botero Esculpture, New York, 1986, p. 55.
2) Ibid., p. 40.
3) The explicit sexuality in this image is only enhanced by the story which accompanies it--Louise O'Murphy supposedly became one of Louis XV's minor mistresses after posing for Boucher at only fifteen years of age.