Fernando Botero is known for his depictions of colourful characters fulfilling various performances, often utilising costume and mise-en-scène with heightened details in his storytelling and as compositional aides. These characters may be depicted alone or in theatrical groupings and range from those performing societal roles, such as presidential families, employees and patrons of infamous Bordellos and the range of everyday people found in his street scenes; to more structured performative appearances from circus members, musical bands and dancers who display a more specific costume and pose. Showing influences both from South American and European art history, Botero has a distinctly recognisable, colourful and monumental style, at times revealing his references, whilst at other times, expressing them more subliminally.
During the early 1970s, Botero undertook a series of Bordello scenes which became some of his best revered works. The Bedroom can be seen within this context, displaying the socially complex scene loaded with art historical inferences. Here, the voluptuous female body, a recurrent and favoured subject within the artist’s oeuvre, takes centre stage. Standing daintily, resting her weight on her left leg, Botero’s abundant muse feigns modesty covering her breast with one hand whist while reaching for the bed with the other, as if striking the pose of an immodest Venus pudica. Rather than covering her lower body with her hand like the classic figure from antiquity as seen in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus and countless statues of the Renaissance, Botero's woman gestures towards the bed, leaving no mistaking the intention of this zaftig Venus dressed in lingerie complete with garters, stockings and bright red high-heeled shoes.
The truncated bed behind her juxtaposes against her size as Botero further distorts her proportions by endowing her with eyes, lips and a nose that appear tiny in proportion with her body. Such mannerist plays of perspective and proportion abound in Botero’s work as compositional devices for emphasizing the mass and volume of his figures. "Monumentality,” he has asserted, “comes across in the shock between proportions."(Interview with P. Cruysmans, reproduced in: E. J. Sullivan, et al., Botero: Monographs and Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings, 1975-1990, Lausanne, 2000, p. 171).
Balancing these incongruities is often a perfect chromatic harmony. The Bedroom, for example, radiates with a warm glow thanks to a carefully repeating palette of pale pinks, golds and earthy greens. The colour of the woman's long blond hair matches the brass of the bed and the frames of the mirrors while her stockings and rosy cheeks are identical in hue to the walls surrounding her. Such chromatic coherence creates a calming effect that Botero seeks to express in all of his work, as he has explained, “I am interested in quiet colour, not excited or feverish colour. I have always considered that great art conveys tranquillity and, in that sense, I seek that ven in colour.” (F. Botero quoted in, A. M. Escallón, "From the Inside out: An Interview with Fernando Botero" in, Botero: New Works on Canvas, New York, 1997, p. 48).
This overall palette furthermore serves to render his subject at one with her environment, as though the environment is an extension of herself, heightening the sense of intimacy inherent in the scene. The soft pinks omit a dream-like, sensual quality, recalling the Rococo master Jean-Honoré Fragonard and his voyeuristic, risqué, bedroom scenes. In addition, the pale stockings and slip-on shoes, bring to mind his masterpiece of titillation, The Swing where there is a similar sense of voluminous femininity, fantasy and voyeurism in which the viewer becomes implicated. The straight gaze of Botero’s muse is confronting, however, whereupon the viewer is seen by her directly and thus becomes active in the scene as her visitor rather than a passive observer. The lifesize scale of the work brings a sense of being in the same room as her and results in a strikingly Baroque immediacy, a physical sense of involvement.
Since his earliest success as a painter, Botero has been seen to pay homage to artists of the past, evidenced from the beginnings of his career with Mona Lisa (1959) to Hommage à Bonnard (1972), Self-portrait in costume of Velázquez (1986) and The Broadgate Venus (1989), a 5-tonne sculpture commissioned for London’s Broadgate Square. The Bedroom can be seen as another of Botero’s playful and witty interpretations of the Venus subject and her various incarnations within the trajectory of art history. Botero’s muse here features the rotundness of a Venus Figurine from the upper-Paleolithic period, mysterious in its meaning yet often interpreted as a totem of plenteousness, fecundity and primal femininity. Elements of her environment recall the storytelling of Diego Vélazquez’s Rokeby Venus, the central mirror and bed exuding sensuality mystery and a voyeurism or taboo that threatens to be revealed and reflected back at the viewer. The tiny bright red details of her nails, lips, rosy cheeks, red shoes and the centres of the flowers in her hair call to mind the details evident in Edouard Manet’s Olympia, a similarly monumental portrait of an everyday goddess of love, removing the fantasy of chastity from her depiction. In The Bedroom, Botero modernises the subject in a semi-satirical context, subtly incorporating elements of our collective visual memory into his own distinctly “Boteroismo” style of exaggerated proportions, exploring further this theme and challenging it into a new character and form.