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

Homage to Bonnard

Fernando Botero (Colombian b. 1932)
Homage to Bonnard
signed and dated 'Botero 77' (lower right)
oil on canvas
92½ x 76 1/8 in. (235 x 194 cm.)
Painted in 1977.
Galerie Brusberg, Hannover.
Galerie Veith, Brussels.
Fondation Veranneman, Kruishoutem.
Acquired from the above.
Exhibition catalogue, Fernando Botero: Der umgekehrte Kolombus, Berlin, Galerie Brusberg, 1996, p. 35, (illustrated in color).
E.J. Sullivan and J-M Tasset, et al., Fernando Botero: Monographs & Paintings 1975-1990 Catalogue Raisonné, Lausanne, Sylvio Acatos, 2000, p. 250, no. 1977/10 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

"I have always thought that a painter's riches lie in his influences," Botero has stated, recognizing longstanding debts of gratitude to sources as far-ranging as Old Master paintings and the Vargas pinup girls from Esquire magazine.(1) Botero has for many decades worked deftly within the venerable canons of art history, with what he has called a "very strange mixture of admiration and criticism." Acknowledging that "an artist is always a critic of earlier artists," he has explained: "You think you must, and can, improve on earlier ages," 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."(2)

Beginning in earnest in the mid-1960s, Botero undertook an ambitious and self-critical engagement with the art-historical tradition, addressing himself to a pantheon of artists through critical re-interpretations of some of their most iconic paintings. His gaze turned often to the Old Masters--Caravaggio, Velázquez, Mantegna, Rubens, Van Eyck--but he found no less significant interlocutors in the nineteenth and early twentieth-century School of Paris painters, among them Ingres, Delacroix, Courbet, and Manet. Botero first paid homage to Pierre Bonnard in 1967, in a painting whose serendipitous associations he later recounted: "Once, I did a painting of a woman in a shower and didn't know what title to give it. Then I thought of Homage to Bonnard, because pictures of bathing women are so closely associated with him." Yet Botero was also careful to distance his painting from the shimmering, post-Impressionist colors of its eponymous source, noting, "My picture is just the opposite: it has space, atmosphere, form, volume, and compact, not vibrating, color."(3) The nature of the Bonnardian inheritance would intermittently preoccupy Botero over the following decade, and he reprised his Homage on at least three other occasions before the present work. Botero's bathers variously stand in the shower and in the bathtub, both alone and in the company of a man (a non-Bonnardian riff). As a group they pay critical tribute to the long line of female bathers in the Western tradition, stretching as far back as Altdorfer and Corinth and culminating, as Botero here acknowledges, in Bonnard.

In striking contrast to Bonnard's more intimately scaled, numinously iridescent nudes, Botero's women overwhelm the space of the bathtub with sheer physicality, their prodigiously rounded proportions the embodiment of sensual volume and monumentality. Botero depicts the simple intimacy of the toilette in the present Homage to Bonnard, drawing back the shower curtain to reveal his bathing woman standing in the tub, folding over her left leg as she reaches down to wash her foot. The bather faces discreetly away from the viewer, her red curls cascading over her head and the broad curves of her back insinuating the supple softness and perfect roundness of Botero's feminine ideal. Here as elsewhere, Botero lovingly embraces the fleshiness of the female body, amplifying her proportions to underscore the suggestive pleasures of voluptuous form. "What is striking in these paintings is not what they take from their models, but what they add to, or subtract from, them," Mario Vargas Llosa has observed of these re-workings of classic sources. "They remain themselves--to be and not to be, an hermaphrodite condition--but they are also transformed into something else. They become Boteros."(4)

Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.
1) F. Botero, quoted in Carlos Fuentes, "Introduction,"Botero: Women, New York: Rizzoli, 2003, 24.
2) Botero, quoted in Werner Spies, "'I'm the most Colombian of Colombian artists': A Conversation with Fernando Botero," Fernando Botero: Paintings and Drawings, Munich: Prestel-Verlag, 1992, 155-56.
3) Ibid., 156.
4) M. Vargas Llosa, "A Sumptuous Abundance," Fernando Botero (Stockholm: Moderna Museet, 2001), 27.

More from Latin American Sale

View All
View All