Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)

Circus Woman

Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Circus Woman
signed and dated 'Botero 07' (lower right)
oil on canvas
65 x 38 ½ in. (165.1 x 97.8 cm.)
Painted in 2007.
Private collection, Europe, by whom acquired in 2007.
Botero, Circus: Paintings and Works on Paper, New York/London, Glitterati, 2013, p. 24 (illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

“At the circus one finds colors, movements, poetry, expressions of the human spirit that one finds nowhere else,” Fernando Botero has waxed eloquently of his recent favored theme.[1] Botero’s delight in depicting the motley performers of the circus is palpable in his series of more than 300 whimsical paintings and drawings that showcase the possibilities of the human body and spirit.

Inspired by a chance encounter with a modest traveling circus in Mexico in 2006, the series also hints at the autobiographical, harkening back to Botero’s childhood in Medellín, Colombia. Botero has often recalled that some of his greatest pleasures as a child were trips to see the Atayde Hermanos, a humble traveling circus from Mexico. Happening upon a similar troupe decades later in Mexico, Botero has explained, proved especially intriguing “because it was a poor circus, like those that came to Medellín when I was a child—a group of poor people who did everything, from selling tickets and ice cream to confronting a toothless lion, walking the tight rope, swinging on the trapeze, juggling, etc.”[2] There is thus a poignancy in Botero’s later playful circus paintings as they are imbued with an elder artist’s nostalgia for days long gone.

Not only deeply personal, the circus series also engages with European art historical precedents. As Botero has pointed out, “the circus had been a very attractive theme for many well-known and lesser-known artists, a subject dignified in the work of Renoir, Seurat, Lautrec, Picasso, Chagall, Léger, Calder and many others.” [3] Well-versed in the canon of European art history, Botero no doubt sought to simultaneously associate himself with and depart from these earlier masters. While Toulouse-Lautrec’s or Picasso’s circus entertainers often appear as laborers, arduously undertaking their tasks, Botero’s trapeze artists, lion tamers and jugglers are hardly burdened by the peculiar and perilous stunts they perform.

In Circus Woman, Botero’s portly protagonist stands stoically erect and decidedly indifferent to the seemingly impossible act of hoisting her enormous body on to a tiny trapeze bar. As in the best of Botero’s works, here the viewer embraces a suspension of disbelief that is not unlike that of the circus-goer. Under the Big Top, men and women walk on wires and shoot out of canons while elephants dance and tigers leap through rings of fire. The circus audience eagerly accepts this bizarre spectacle and is willingly transported into flights of fancy. Similarly, in Botero’s work the viewer is asked to eschew logic and to embrace an imaginative world in which improbably corpulent figures occupy spaces with impossibly skewed perspectives. Botero’s eccentric characters, always rendered in disproportionate sizes, thus seem right at home in the zany arena of the circus.

The perspectival play in Circus Woman allows Botero to accentuate the monumentality of his figure. Here the trapeze artist appears audaciously rotund not only because Botero has rendered her with ample hips and thighs but also because of the minute scale of the audience. By filling the circus bleachers in the background with mere specks of blurred flesh tones, Botero creates the illusion of a colossus in the foreground. Simultaneously, Botero seamlessly knits these two distant planes of background and foreground together with his repeating palette of primary colors—the bright blue and red of the woman’s leotard and tights perfectly matching the bleacher wall.

An ideal subject that allowed Botero to delve deep into the fantastic while simultaneously looking to his own past as well as art history’s, the circus stands out as a singular series in the artist’s long and prolific career, offering up an inimitable wellspring of creativity.

1 Fernando Botero, quoted in C. Bill Pepper, Circus: Paintings and Works on Paper by Fernando Botero, New York, Glitterati, 2013, n.p.
2 Fernando Botero, quoted in B. Manz, “Circus! Fernando Botero,” Berkeley Review of Latin American Studies (Spring 2009): 28.
3 Ibid.

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