Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
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Frente a la catedral

Frente a la catedral
signed and dated 'Botero 94' (lower right)
oil on canvas
44 x 38 1⁄2 in. (111.8 x 97.8 cm.)
Painted in 1994.
Marlborough Gallery, New York.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 27 May 1998, lot 48.
Private collection, Hong Kong.
Anon. sale, Christie's New York, 30 May 2001, lot 71.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Further details
1 Fernando Botero, quoted in Werner Spies, “‘I’m the most Colombian of Colombian artists’: A Conversation with Fernando Botero,” in Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings (Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1992), 158.
2 Botero, quoted in Ana María Escallón, “From the Inside Out: An Interview with Fernando Botero,” in Botero: New Works on Canvas (New York: Rizzoli, 1997), 36.
3 Mario Vargas Llosa, “A Sumptuous Abundance,” in Fernando Botero (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001), 21.
4 Ibid., 22.

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Lot Essay

“I left Colombia when I was nineteen,” Botero recalls. “At that age, you’re already the way you are and don’t really change later. The first twenty years of your life mark you in a very special way.” Botero left his native Medellín for Madrid in 1952 and has since led a peripatetic life—moving from Mexico to New York, between Italy and Paris—and yet he remains, by his own proclamation, “the most Colombian of Colombian artists.” His paintings betray his enduring affection for his country—“art, too, must have roots,” he observes—and he admits to feelings of nostalgia. “I paint Colombia the way I want it to be. It’s an imaginary Colombia—like Colombia but, at the same time, not like it.”[1] His subjects have encompassed bullfights and bishops, bathers and the bourgeoisie, but his “theme par excellence” remains the Latin American family. “There is a beautiful tradition of family portraits in the history of art,” he notes, and in Frente a la catedral he portrays a quintessential Antioquian family with his characteristic humor and endearment.[2]
“The world of Botero is American, Andean, provincial, because his themes invent a mythology out of the images lodged in his memory since childhood,” the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has explained. “Many stable, very Catholic families don their Sunday best and pose stiffly in front of the painter’s memory. . . . People live in small colonial houses with twin sloping roofs and orange-coloured tiles, which nestle peacefully at the foot of the church whose bell tower still dominates the place. . . . It is a world of tidy people with strict routines, of gentlemen with spectacles—lawyers no doubt—who trim their small moustaches to the millimetre, wear waistcoats, never take their tie off and put cream on their hair.”[3]
This vanishing local sensibility wafts through Botero’s quaint tableaux of everyday life, each painting a microcosm of olden Colombian mores. In the present work, the national flag waves from the dome of a cathedral suggestively modeled on the eighteenth-century Iglesia de La Candelaria, the oldest church in Medellín. Frente a la catedral describes a traditional family group: a moustached man in suit and tie gazes at his wife, decorous and matronly, as their children—stocky and marionette-like—reach toward them from either side. They present a familial panoply of complementary reds (headband, necklace, fingernails, skirt) and greens (blouse, heels, necktie, socks), colors echoed in the clay roof tiles and leafy treetops in the distance. “Botero’s world gives the impression of peace and stability,” Vargas Llosa concludes. “No excess seems conceivable in this sleepy atmosphere.” These scenes of “idyllic village life” are removed not only “from time, but also from the violence, the misery and the struggles” of the “real world.” Far from that chaos and the mayhem of “ugliness, vulgarity, and horror,” Botero’s Antioquian world ultimately countenances “serenity and logic, an everyday order, love and confidence in life, and a sense of elegance and decoration.”[4]
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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