Fernando Botero (Colombian B. 1932)
Fernando Botero (Colombian B. 1932)

The Musicians

Fernando Botero (Colombian B. 1932)
The Musicians
signed and dated 'Botero 79' (lower right)
oil on canvas
85½ x 74¾ in. (217 x 190 cm.)
Painted in 1979.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Private collection, Monterrey.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 19th and 20th Century Latin American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, 29 November 1983, lot 28, front cover (illustrated in color).
Private collection, New York.
MacKenzie Galleries, Toronto.
Tanenbaum collection, Toronto.
Exhibition catalogue, Fernando Botero, Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, 1979, p. 110, no. 66; front cover (illustrated in color).
C. Ratcliff, Botero, Abbeville Press, Inc., New York, 1980, p. 164, no. 138 (illustrated in color).
W. Spies, Fernando Botero, Prestel, Munich, 1986, p. 6, fig. 1 (illustrated).
Exhibition catalogue, Fernando Botero, Tokyo, Tokyu Department Store Art Gallery, 1986, p. 41, no. 18 (illustrated in color).
G. Lascault, Botero - La pintura, Lerner & Lerner Editores, Madrid, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, 1992, p. 258 (illustrated in color).
Botero Posters, Enrique Michelsen Ediciones, Bogota, 1994, p. 32, 64 (illustrated in color).
Découvrons l'art - 20e siècle, Botero, Editions Cercle d'Art, Paris, 1996, no. 30 (illustrated in color).
J. M. Faerna, Botero, Cameo Abrams, New York, 1996, p. 39, no. 30 (illustrated in color).
'Botero,' special edition of Connaissance des Arts, Paris, July 1999, p. 32, no. 28 (illustrated in color).
E. J. Sullivan & J.-M. Tasset, Fernando Botero: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1975-1990, Acatos, Lausanne, 2000, p. 287, no. 1979/16; p. 74 (illustrated in color).
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.
Tokyo, Tokyu Department Store Art Gallery, Fernando Botero, August - September 1986. This exhibition later traveled to Sapporo, Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art, September - October 1986; Osaka, Daimaru Museum, October 1986; Niigata, City Art Museum, November 1986.
Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario, 1997 - 2000 on extended loan.

Lot Essay

A group of musicians in a bar or public hall of some sort, anemically illuminated by a string of pale lights and replete with an old-fashioned juke box, face us attentively as if waiting for our cue to begin to play. Far from boisterous, these unsmiling figures have the solemnity and static poses of a wall painting in an ancient Egyptian temple. Such is the sly humor of Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist who specializes in poking loving fun of the complacent and self-satisfied bourgeoisie of his nation. His trademark fondness for rotundity serves many purposes as we can see here in his Musicians from 1979 where the drably garbed, brown-suited men look like so many chocolates crammed in a gift box topped with a bright bow in the form of the pink and lavender ruffles of the girl's dress in the foreground. Musicians, sometimes accompanied by singers and dancers, are a favored theme of Botero (the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Dancing in Colombia of 1980 is another superb example). This subject, often used to express national identity, runs throughout 20th century Latin American art and can be seen in the work of Emilio Pettoruti, Rufino Tamayo, Pedro Figari, and Emiliano di Cavalcanti. Botero's musicians are part of the vast repertoire he employs to celebrate aspects of every day Colombian life.

As the art historian Jacqueline Barnitz advises, don't let the humor of Botero's social stereotyping obscure the seriousness of the formal aspects of his art (1). Born in Medellín, the artist was surrounded with Catholic churches full of Baroque polychrome wooden sculptures that at times resembled porcelain. These colonial sculptural forms captured his imagination and contributed to the development of his rounded and monumental figural types. A serious student of art history, Botero traveled to Italy and admired the volumetric figures of Piero della Francesca and other artists of the quattrocento. He continued his studies of the old masters in European museum collections and particularly admired the court portraits of Diego Velázquez and the sensuous, grand-scale works of Peter Paul Rubens. Along with his compatriot Enrique Grau, he often appropriated images from European models of the past (such as Mona Lisa Age Twelve of 1959 in the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York).

Eschewing the expressive and loose brushstrokes of other contemporary neofigurative artists, after 1960 Botero favored the smooth surfaces of academic painting. Although at first glance his works are also reminiscent of popular and naïve Colombian painting, upon closer examination they reveal a sophisticated articulation of form and color, a technique that he continued to develop over time. Botero incorporated proportional discrepancies to great effect as well by putting small heads on large bodies or by including in the same picture plane individuals rendered in greatly different sizes. In Musicians, for example, the guitar-playing man and woman in the foreground are inexplicably much smaller than the other musicians - perhaps an allusion to Velazquez's frequent portrayals of the dwarfs of the Spanish court.

From the late 1950s to 1973 Botero lived in New York and perhaps this distance allowed him to explore with greater clarity and affection the private and public lives of the Colombian middle classes. In painting after painting he boldly probed their Catholic pieties, conservative politics, status-seeking posturing, and even their illicit sexual gamboling in whorehouses - all with a tenderness and playful irony born of familiarity. In Musicians many of the faces look identical, all are expressionless and one senses that what is being depicted are not individuals but a particular social class. Nevertheless, poised on the brink of a noisy entertainment meant for enjoyment, we eagerly wait for the party to begin.

Susan L. Aberth
Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 2006

(1) Jacqueline Barnitz, Twentieth Century Art of Latin America, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001, p. 259.

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