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La Cantante

La Cantante
signed and dated ‘Botero 16’ (lower right)
oil on canvas
189 x 155 cm. (74 3⁄8 x 61 in.)
Painted in 2016
Galerie Gmurzynska, Zug, Zurich & New York.
Private collection, by whom acquired from the above in 2017.

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Lot Essay

“The problem is to determine the source of the pleasure when one looks at a picture… For me, the pleasure comes from the exaltation of life, which expresses the sensuality of forms.”
Fernando Botero (quoted in M. V. Llosa, “A Sumptuous Abundance” in Fernando Botero, exh. cat., Stockholm, 2001, p. 19)

Suspended in crescendo, a glamorous singer in an emerald green dress faces us, her arm raised as her voice soars, flanked by her band on a stage. The full body of Botero’s songstress perfectly fills the centre of the composition, statuesque in her abundant size, her brightly coloured musical troupe diminutive behind her. Lit by a constellation of candy coloured lights above, the musicians are arranged in a neat U-shape, each poised in picture-perfect position to represent their musical roles. They are dressed for the occasion and without hearing their tune, it can be assumed that their act is wellrehearsed and they are ready to impress their audience, whomever may be listening and watching. This magnificently vibrant, sonorous display on a grand scale perfectly characterises Botero’s key theme of the musical performance, alluding to the opportunity for communal merriment and all that might come with it, which takes pride of place as one of the most celebrated subjects in his oeuvre. A modern take on the genre scene, La Cantante, aligns with the artist’s greatest achievements in oil as represented in such works as Dancing in Colombia from 1980 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) Tablao flamenco from 1984 and The Musicians from 1979 which both parody and honour the activities of everyday life in Colombia, elevating them to the monumental dimensions of history painting.

Drawing from a range of artistic influences, Botero approaches the time-honoured theme of the musical performance from both local and international vantage points. A key element the cultural identity of Botero’s nation of Colombia, musicians can readily be seen as an essential motifs within the broader context of 20th Century Latin American art as explored by modern masters such as Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo and others. This theme furthermore recalls the legacy of early-20th Century European artists who depicted musical motifs from contemporary life, particularly Pablo Picasso’s guitar players, musicians and saltimbanques. Traversing further into history, Botero famously draws inspiration from a myriad of European Old Master painters from Giotto to Vélazquez that he studied intensively from the early stages of his career. The boldly coloured clothing and structured arrangement of the figures in La Cantante recall the lute-playing angels of Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity (1470-1475; National Gallery of Art, London) whilst their poise and the broad, flat outline of their guitars call to mind Peter Paul Rubens Suonatore di Liuto (1609- 1610; MuseiI Reali, Turin).

Botero’s trademark voluminous figures arrive from similar origins, initiated by the artist’s earliest experiences. As noted by Susan L. Aberth, “Born in Medellín, the artist was surrounded with Catholic churches full of Baroque polychrome wooden sculptures that at times resembled porcelain. These colonial sculptural forms captured his imagination and contributed to the development of his rounded and monumental figural types.” (Susan L. Aberth, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, 2006). These early influences which would soon be followed by his study of the Italian Renaissance artists led Botero to define his distinctive figurative style, modernised with subjects from local Colombian life. In La Cantante, the contours of his statuesque singer’s sensual, opulent, Boteroesque body remain visible from underneath her form-fitting green dress, pointing to the fleshy, bold nudes of Titian, yet her skin remains radiant, uniform and smooth, contained within defined outlines reminiscent of Botticelli. Such is the depth to Botero’s unique artistic language, as Jacqueline Barnitz notes “don’t let the humour of Botero’s social stereotyping obscure the seriousness of the formal aspects of his art” (Jacqueline Barnitz, Twentieth Century Art of Latin America, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2001, p. 259). In La Cantante, Botero finds the perfect melody between past and present, humour and celebration, reflecting on the enduringly pertinent activities that sustain community.

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