Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
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Fernando Botero (b. 1932)
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En la plaza

En la plaza
signed and dated 'Botero 87' (lower right)
oil on canvas
72 x 51 3⁄8 in. (182.9 x 130.5 cm.)
Painted in 1987.
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner.
J. Caballero Bonald, Fernando Botero: The Bullfight, Madrid, Lerner y Lerner Editores, 1989 (illustrated, p. 93).
J. Caballero Bonald, Fernando Botero: The Bullfight, New York, Rizzoli International Publications, 1990 (illustrated, p. 93).
E.J. Sullivan & J.-M. Tasset, Fernando Botero: Monograph & Catalogue Raisonné, Paintings 1975-1990, Lausanne, 2000, no. 1987⁄22 (illustrated, p. 413).
Milan, Castello Sforzesco - Sala Viscontea; Coro, Venezuela, Museo de Arte; Caracas, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo; Mexico City, Museo Rufino Tamayo, Botero: La corrida, December 1987-August 1989, no. 18, p. 124 (illustrated, p. 50).

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Lot Essay

“The problem is to determine the source of the pleasure when one looks at a picture,” Botero explains. “For me, the pleasure comes from the exaltation of life, which expresses the sensuality of forms” (quoted in M. Vargas Llosa, “A Sumptuous Abundance,” Fernando Botero, exh. cat., Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2001, p. 19). Famed for the lushly proportioned, pillowy bodies of his now-eponymous nudes, Botero has for decades applied his facetious wit to subjects spanning Colombia’s military junta and its red-light district, Catholic clergymen and the bourgeoisie. Since his 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 proportions defy fashionable conventions of beauty. Formidable and yet charmingly naïve, Botero’s characters play out scenes and drollery from everyday life from the church to the circus and even the bullring, as portrayed in En la plaza with the artist’s customary élan.
“My first passion was the bulls,” Botero recalls. “One day, my uncle Joaquín enrolled me in a training school for bullfighters. Run by Aranguito, a banderillero, it operated in the Macarena bull ring in Medellín. I would go to the bull ring two or three times a week and hang out there. I got to be good at dodging imaginary horns and at toreo de salón, that is, cape and muleta work without a bull. I went to see the great matadors of the time—Manolete, Lorenzo Garza, Arruza, and the others. But the day they brought in a real, live bull for us to work with, my passion cooled” (quoted in A. M. Escallón, “From the Inside Out: An Interview with Fernando Botero,” Botero: New Works on Canvas, New York, 1997, p. 12). “I realized in the ring that I was better at watercolor,” he later admitted. “I didn’t have the courage and the drive to do it. But the afición, the passion for bulls, has stayed with me all my life.” In bullfighting Botero found a profound and enduring subject, its ritualized spectacle of life and death memorialized in a now iconic series of paintings and sculptures, among them the present work. “I am always going to make paintings on bullfighting,” he concedes. “It is a subject matter that has fascinated me all my life. First of all, because there are all the elements that should be in a painting, like color, forms, composition and space. But the matter also involves drama, and this gives an extra dimension to the subject” (quoted in “A Conversation with Curtis Bill Pepper,” Bullfight: Fernando Botero, New York, 2014, pp. 13-14).
Although Botero drew scenes from the corrida as a boy, copying posters made by the Spanish artist Carlos Ruano Llopis, he returned to the bull ring in the 1980s in full cognizance of the art-historical canon into which he entered. “In 1983, after attending a bullfight in Medellín, I retraced my steps along the road on which I had started,” he explained. “I thought to myself: ‘This is a worthy subject with a long tradition—Goya, Manet, Picasso,’ and so I did my version of the bullfight” (quoted in A. M. Escallón, op. cit., p. 12). Botero’s revival of the bullfight is steeped in this iconographic tradition, from its basis in Spanish patrimony and pageantry to its sobering meditations on the human condition. He drew parallels between the bull ring and the canvas, declaring, “A great matador such as Juan Belmonte defined the classical in bullfighting as ‘what cannot be done better’ and I think that this definition can be applied also in art” (quoted in C. Carrillo de Albornoz Fisac, “The Perils of Popularity,” The Art Newspaper 120, December 2001, p. 45).
A modern-day maja, in the great Spanish tradition, the elegant sitter in En la plaza perches daintily on a balcony at the bullring, framed by crowds of aficionados that fill the open-air stands behind her. A red peineta rises high behind her rows of tightly permed auburn hair, in place to hold a mantilla; she plays with the fringes of a red shawl that falls across her lap, perhaps a nod to the muleta, the bullfighter’s storied red cape. She faces away from the action, seemingly detached from the existential drama unfolding behind her; pale, placid, and imperturbable, she sits serenely in her floral dress and high-heeled shoes, fanning herself against the fray. “Botero’s women, with their perms, their scarlet nails and their boneless, luxuriant forms, are not only a stylised fantasy of the ‘ideal woman’ in the Latin American world of the 1940s and 1950s,” the writer Mario Vargas Llosa observed. “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” (op. cit., p. 19). In En la plaza, Botero stages this archetypal woman against the red-blooded machismo of the bullring, combining two enduring loves. “My great source of pleasure, almost as intense as painting, is to watch a bullfight every day—on video if need be,” he once reflected. “Bullfighting, in an increasingly grey world, is one of the few fields that still has colour” (quoted in C. Carrillo de Albornoz Fisac, op. cit., p. 45).
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park

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