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

The Bather

Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
The Bather
signed and dated ‘Botero 75’ (lower right, right panel)
oil on canvas
93 x 49 ½ in. (236.2 x 126 cm.) each
93 x 148 ½ in. (236.2 x 377.2 cm.) overall
Painted in 1975.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Metromedia Inc., Los Angeles.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner (January 2006).
C. Ratcliff, Botero, New York, Abbeville Press, First Edition, 1980, p. 18, no. 3 (illustrated in color, titled Bathers).
G. Lascault, Botero- La pintura, Madrid, Lerner & Lerner Editores and Paris, Editions Cercle d'Art, 1992, pp.180-181 (illustrated in color, titled Los bañistas).
E.J. Sullivan and J.-M. Tasset, Fernando Botero: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné 1975-1990, Lausanne,
Acatos, 2000, pp. 229-230, no. 1975.2 (illustrated, left and right panels flipped).
C. Fuentes, Botero: Women, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 2003, pp. 162-163 (illustrated in color, dated incorrectly).
New York, Marlborough Gallery, Fernando Botero, 7-29 November 1975, pp. 38-40, no. 11 (illustrated in color and on jacket, titled Bathers). This exhibition also traveled to Toronto, Marlborough Gallery, December 1975 and Montreal, Marlborough Gallery, February 1976.
Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Fernando Botero, 20 December 1979-10 March 1980, pp. 38-39, no. 43 (illustrated in color) and p. 86 (illustrated). This exhibition also traveled to Corpus Christi, Art Museum of South Texas, 27 March-10 May 1980.
Takamatsu, Takamatsu City Museum of Art, Fernando Botero, 6 October-5 November 1995, pp. 50-51, no. 7 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Tsukuba, Tsukuba Museum of Art, Ibaraki, 7 January- 4 February 1996; Nagaoka, The Niigata Prefectural Museum of Art, 13 April-19 May, 1996; Tokyo, Mitsukoshi Museum of Art, Shinjuku, 26 May-23 June 1996; Iwaki, Iwaki City Museum, 13 July-25 August 1996.
Kyongju, Sonje Museum of Contemporary Art, Fernando Botero, 18 October 1996-31 January 1997, pp. 36-37, no. 7 (illustrated in color).
Lugano, Museo d'Art Moderna-Villa Malpensata, Fernando Botero, 31 July-12 October 1997, pp. 74-75 (illustrated in color) and p. 75 (illustrated; titled La Bagnante and Die Badende).
Further details
1 Fernando Botero, quoted in Germán Arciniegas, Fernando Botero (New York: H.N. Abrams, 1977), 51.
2 Botero, quoted in Werner Spies, “A Conversation with Fernando Botero,” Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1992), 155-56.
3 Sam Hunter, Fernando Botero (New York: Marlborough Gallery, 1975): 5-7.
4 Mario Vargas Llosa, “A Sumptuous Abundance,” in Fernando Botero (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001), 19.

Lot Essay

“The problem is to establish where the pleasure comes from when you look at a painting,” Botero explained in 1977. “For me, it is the exaltation of life communicated by the sensuality of forms. Then, my formal problem is to create sensuality through forms.”1 Famed for the lushly proportioned, pillowy bodies of his now-eponymous nudes, Botero has applied his facetious wit to subjects spanning Colombia’s military junta and its red-light district, Catholic clergymen and the bourgeoisie. Since his first departure for Europe in 1952, he has drawn from myriad art-historical sources—Titian and Velázquez; Giotto and Masaccio; Rubens and Ingres—and embraced the classical sensuality of volume, space, and color in legions of stylized “Boteromorphs.” Enamored as a boy of the glamorous “Vargas girls” that he saw in Esquire magazine, Botero has long since cultivated an aesthetics of abundance in figures whose amplitude defies fashionable conventions of beauty.
Botero has for decades worked deftly, with what he calls “a very strange mixture of admiration and criticism,” within the venerable canons of art history. “You think you must, and can, improve on earlier ages,” he once acknowledged, but at the same time “you must have this critical attitude to art of the past. . . . You can take the same subject and create a totally different painting. That’s where real originality lies, in taking something that’s already been done by someone and doing it differently.” Botero’s gaze turned often to the Old Masters, but he also found key interlocutors in nineteenth-century French painting, perhaps stimulated by his move to Paris in 1973, and he reprised his engagement with Pierre Bonnard—the quintessential painter of bathers—in the mid-1970s. Botero’s bathers engulf the space of the bathtub—or here, the even grander scale of the swimming pool—with sheer physicality, their prodigiously rounded proportions the embodiment of volume and monumentality. He was still careful, however, to distinguish his painting from the shimmering, post-Impressionist colors of his source. “My picture is just the opposite,” he demurred, of Bonnard. “It has space, atmosphere, form, volume, and compact, not vibrating, color.”2
“When he concentrates on a single human character,” wrote the art historian Sam Hunter in his introduction to Botero’s solo show at Marlborough in 1975, “his image matches artifice with animal energy and mythic power.” Hunter admired the “magnetism of his fertility-cult female” and declared the present triptych “perhaps his most unusual and dream-like icon of dominance,” noting how scale “seems to be a function of psychic space and the power of an obsession.” In The Bather, he explained, “an immense female nude holding an apple distracts and visually overwhelms a repeated, small male swimmer of Magrittean propriety. Echoing the corpulent munificence and promise of the earth mother colossus is a Freudian landscape of volcano cones.” The psychology of the painting is both internal, between the towering bather and her diminutive admirer, and art historical. “The historical past and the artist’s own role, whether as commentator or sycophant, do seriously engage his energies and arouse in him a profound oedipal ambivalence,” Hunter allows, “rather like one’s own family.”3
“In this essentially matriarchal world,” observed the Peruvian writer and intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa of Botero’s provincial familial order, “the men look to the women for company and protection rather than pleasure. Alongside the women, they seem small and defenseless. Botero’s women, with their perms, their scarlet nails and their boneless, luxuriant forms, are not only a stylized fantasy of the ‘ideal woman’ in the Latin American world of the 1940s and 1950s. Their thick figures embody, above all, the mother/woman, the supreme taboo, which gives life, suckles the species and is the backbone of the home.” Placid and majestic, the subject of The Bather contains this feminine ideal within the salmon-colored folds of her flesh and her stolid, matronly pose, seen from front, back, and side. “In Botero’s fat ladies there is no lasciviousness and the sexual component is miniscule, if not non-existent,” Vargas Llosa remarked. “Rather than a whore, a nun, or a saint, Botero’s fat woman is—has been, or will be—a mother.”4 Here cupping an orange in her hand (in lieu of the biblical apple), the bather channels Eve, the first and eternal mother and among Botero’s iconic and recurring subjects. A paradigmatic Botero woman, she exists in a modern Eden, standing beside a swimming pool of pistachio-green water framed by a lush rectangle of grass, a red-brick wall, and finally a serene horizon of Colombian mountains and sky.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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