signed and dated 'Botero 10' (lower right)
oil on canvas
144 x 100 cm. (56 ¾ x 39 ½ in.)
Painted in 2010
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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. For this reason, my formal problem is to create sensuality through forms.” 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 Abu Ghraib, 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. “I make the characters fat to give them sensuality,” he insists. “I am not interested in fat for fat’s sake.” (1) Formidable and yet charmingly naïve, his figures play out scenes and drollery from everyday life, characteristically sourced from the idealized world of Medellín, Botero’s birthplace.

“I paint Colombia the way I want it to be,” he acknowledges. “It’s an imaginary Colombia—like Colombia but, at the same time, not like it. . . . It’s a kind of nostalgia.” He insists that he is “the most Colombian of Colombian artists,” and his affection for his country knows no bounds. (2) “The artist’s first twenty years have an enormous visual repercussion on the evolution of his work,” Botero continues. “It appears that nostalgia for certain moments of his life will come to the fore. One always paints what is best known, and it is rooted in childhood and adolescence. That is the world I paint. I have done nothing else.” (3) That vanishing local sensibility wafts through many of Botero’s recent paintings, which recreate scenes from Medellín’s red-light district and the Ataide Circus, presenting microcosms of South American mores with wry humor and gentle social critique.

“His artistic universe is constructed with memories of his childhood, and as a young man,” John Sillevis has observed. “The families in the provincial towns in Latin America lived their lives with strict rules: the men were well groomed, they wore a suit, a tie, and a hat when outdoors, and the women also were ladylike, with gloves, handbags, and flowery dresses. The children were well behaved and disciplined. The pleasures of daily life were—and are—predictable: an outing in the country with a picnic basket, a visit to a bullfight, a walk through the narrow streets with colorful houses in colonial style, or a romantic night of ballroom dancing. A ferocious tango or a mellow bolero, danced according to the rules, may be a limited escape from a petty bourgeois existence with a façade of morality and religious obedience. It means working hard to keep up appearances in a society where even vice has a certain conformity. The men in Botero’s paintings may be good fathers and kind husbands, but they are also macho individuals who are familiar with the girls in the local brothels.” (4)

“There was a red-light district in Medellín at the time,” Botero reminisces of his precocious adolescence in Colombia. “It was an easy-going place; class lines blurred in a sort of never-ending carnival, a permanent street party.” He sometimes “felt like [he] was the local Toulouse-Lautrec,” and his paintings betray a quaint voyeurism in their descriptions of brothels and their late-night habitués. (5) Dancers belongs within a long lineage of dancing couples in Botero’s oeuvre that extends from canvas to monumental bronze sculpture. Some pairs perform in public spaces—as in Dancing in Colombia (1980), at the Metropolitan Museum of Art—and others privately, both alone and in bacchanalian company. The present couple appear regularly in Botero’s work, their features—five o’clock shadow; dark, pleated hair; impassive gazes—as familiar as their matching steps and flaunted, shapely forms. In an earlier variation of Dancers (2003), the couple sways in a nearly identical pose, framed by a green curtain and table; in each painting, the color of the woman’s dress (or bare flesh) is matched to the wall, establishing tonal harmonies—in the present Dancers, of sumptuous red—that suffuse the space.

Indeed, the sensuality of Dancers derives as much from the measured intensity and equilibrium of its color as from its romantic innuendo. The saturated red of the woman’s dress stands out against the muted, rosewood wall and floor, as do the bright accents of her hair ribbon and painted nails. The painting’s allover rubescence is offset by complementary shades of green: the flower-specked curtain that drapes before a door; the man’s tie and sock, as well as his olive-toned suit; the woman’s earring; the bottle atop the table. Additional contrast comes from the six cigarette butts scattered on the floor, familiar embellishments in Botero’s painting. “When I was smoking and would throw my cigarette butts on the studio floor, I began putting cigarette butts into my pictures,” he explains. “I make use of cigarette butts to break the monotony of a tone or ‘to tone down’ a white in a composition. Those are demands that color will make. . . . To lay on a color and forms, one is obliged to invent a world that operates in accordance with a certain logic.” (6) The provisional intimacy of Botero’s Dancers is inseparable from this resonant world in which its subjects move, their bodies in chromatic concert as they perform a dance of seduction.

Abby McEwen, Associate Professor,
Latin American Art, University of Maryland, Baltimore

(1) Fernando Botero, quoted in Mario Vargas Llosa, “A Sumptuous Abundance,” in Fernando Botero (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001), 19.
(2) 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.
(3) 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), 10.
(4) John Sillevis, “Botero’s Baroque,” in The Baroque World of Fernando Botero (Alexandria, Va.: Art Services International, 2006), 29.
(5) Botero, quoted in Escallón, “From the Inside Out,” 13.
(6) Ibid., 30.

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