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Man Eating

Man Eating
signed and dated 'Botero 78' (lower right)
oil on canvas
71 x 55 in. (180.3 x 139.7 cm.)
Painted in 1978.
Galería Duque Vargas, Medellín.
Anon. sale; Christie's, New York, 26 November 1996, lot 40.
Alan N. and Carol F. Cohen, Palm Beach; Christie's, New York, 31 May 2007, lot 67.
Private collection, New York.
Private collection, Dubai (acquired via Opera Gallery, Dubai, 2009).
Acquired from the above by the present owner (2015).
E. J. Sullivan & J.-M. Tasset, Fernando Botero: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1975-1990, Lausanne, Sylvio Acatos, 2000, no. 1978⁄19 (illustrated, p. 267).
L. Litinsky, 'A Finished Masterpiece,' Florida Design, vol. 14, no. 4, December 2004, pp. 312 and 314.

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Lot Essay

Since his departure for Europe in 1952, Botero 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 his now eponymous figures. His subjects have encompassed Colombia’s military junta and Abu Ghraib, Catholic clergymen and the bourgeoisie, and yet the idealized world of Medellín, his birthplace, remains a touchstone. “You have a responsibility toward your country,” Botero acknowledges, and he has long embraced his identity as “the most Colombian of Colombian artists;” his affection for his country knows no bounds. “I left Colombia when I was nineteen,” he 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. You have to be honest with yourself…Art, too, must have roots, has to be honest” (quoted in W. Spies, “‘I’m the most Colombian of Colombian artists’: A Conversation with Fernando Botero,” Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings, Munich, 1992, p. 158). The Colombian flag draped in the upper-right corner of Man Eating immediately places the painting’s subject in a scene from Botero’s adolescence, illuminating an arcadian world whose languid way of life and timeworn traditions he describes with characteristic humor and endearment.
This vanishing local sensibility wafts through Botero’s quaint tableaux of everyday life, each painting a microcosm of olden Colombian mores. “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 and intellectual Mario Vargas Llosa has explained. “Many stable, very Catholic families don their Sunday best and pose stiffly in front of the painter’s memory. . . . Here to eat well is looked on favourably, it is a sign of health and prosperity, one of the few pleasures admitted by the dominant moral order. 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” (“A Sumptuous Abundance,” Fernando Botero, exh. cat., Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2001, p. 21). Just such a mustachioed gentleman lifts a chicken leg from his plate in Man Eating, his dapper attire a charming formality for an outdoor luncheon. The food and drink, from tabletop to plate, is cast in roseate hues—a familiar and characteristic palette for Botero—that extend to the man’s hat and suit, his ruddy complexion, and the warm gradient of the tent behind him. Accents of complementary green, from necktie to table, provide understated contrast; swarming flies and a sweetly beseeching dog complete the scene.
“One does not need to have visited the Colombian towns in Antioquia in the 1940s to recognise the social reality that serves as a backdrop to Botero’s imagination,” Vargas Llosa concludes. “Botero has left his own personal seal on this world, radically changing it in the process. Above all, as we have seen, he has inflated it, emptied it of psychology and paralysed it. Not only has he removed it from time, but also from violence, the misery and the struggles that, in the real world, are the counterweight to idyllic village life. Botero’s world gives the impression of peace and stability; no excess seems conceivable in this sleepy atmosphere. It is a compact, non-fragmented, aseptic, self-confident world that, in contrast to the chaotic, disturbed and irrational worlds of contemporary artists, proposes serenity and logic, an everyday order, love and confidence in life, and a sense of elegance and decoration that are classical” (ibid., p. 22).
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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