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Throughout his long career, Colombian-born painter, drawer and draftsman Fernando Botero has reflected an unrelenting interest in the relationship between form and volume in his art. As a young artist, Botero travelled to Italy, Spain and France where he gained first-hand knowledge of Renaissance and Baroque masters such as Piero della Francesca, Albrecht Dürer and Diego Velázquez. Through his studies of such artists, Botero came to develop his own unique artistic perspective in which Baroque embellishments and Mannerist tendencies converge, giving way to a new style. The present work, Painter and Model (2004) is a prime example of what has become an unmistakable trademark of Botero’s art: exaggerated, corpulent forms of humans, animals and inanimate objects that bear little or no proportional relationship to one another.
Best-known for his paintings and larger-than-life bronze sculptures, a lesser-known but nevertheless equally important aspect of Fernando Botero’s work is his drawings. While many of Botero’s paintings start off as sketches in a notebook, in the process of translating those sketches to oil painting, his figures — meticulously executed and enrobed in vibrant colors — take on an intensity and vigor that invades the viewer’s space. His finished drawings by comparison are more subtle; often executed in charcoal, graphite, or sanguine, the drawings are contemplative at their core and moreover, they exhibit a purity and honesty of expression that is indebted to the medium.
Portraying a classical theme, Painter and Model provides an intimate portrait of the artist at work. Also a self-portrait of Botero, here the artist depicts himself before the viewer, with palette and brush in hand as testament to his craft. His voluptuous model, exaggerated beyond proportional reality, reclines behind him. Executed primarily in graphite, Botero adds touches of color here and there, adding depth to the two-dimensional image. Warm, golden tones sweep across the model’s bosom and legs. Pale pink accents her lips and eyes, nails pop with a deep red hue, accentuating her sex. As a contrast to her nudity, the artist dons blue pants and a white collared shirt. Traces of pentimenti are noted by the model’s right hand and shoulder, evidence of the disegno behind the composition.
The artist at work
Over the years, Botero has executed variations on this theme of painter and model in oil and on paper including Self-Portrait Dressed as Velázquez (1986) and Self-Portait with Model (1989). In many of these works, the same model as we see in Painter and Model is featured. This voluptuous woman with big hair and bright nails has become one of Botero’s archetypes. She appears as a solitary figure in a bedroom, engaged in dance with a male partner, as a nude bather, or sometimes she masquerades as a society lady. This is not unique to Botero’s women, however; many of his subjects are characters conjured up from the artist’s imagination. As Botero admits, the subject is merely of secondary importance; his types serve instead as conduits for his formal, plastic investigations.
The artist notes, ‘what really guides me above all, while I sculpt or paint men, women, animals or objects, is the plastic aspect of beings and things. Plasticity exists indiscriminately in a woman, a still life, or a landscape.’ As can be seen with Painter and Model, through Botero’s unique treatment of plasticity and volume, his subjects engage and relate to one another in humorous and oftentimes absurd ways, rendering the familiar strange and yielding a fresh perspective on an age-old theme.
Browse more works by Botero and other artists in our online auction, In the Flesh: The Nude in Latin American Art, offered on 16 November – 2 December.
Fernando Botero (b. 1932), Painter and model, signed and dated ‘Botero 04’ (lower right), graphite, pastel and watercolor on paper, 14 1/8 x 19 1/2 in. (35.9 x 49.5 cm.). Executed in 2004.
1. E. J. Sullivan & J.-M. Tasset, Fernando Botero: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings, 1975-1990, Sylvio Acatos, Laussane, 2000, p. 84.