This painting is a prime example of Botero's images of quiet moments borrowed from every day life. With his immortal words about style, "realism is the true vanguard," he borrows incessantly from real life to transform ordinary moments into subjects worthy of painting.(1) The unmistakable and archetypical figure of Botero's work appears here in the foreground of the work: a plump woman moves across the bottom of the image as she walks her dog. Looming large in the background of the work is the ever-present Colombian landscape, stacked with tiny homes and a church in the distance. Botero's admiration of painters such as Ingres and Delacroix are evident as much in his careful use of line and coloration as in his meticulous devising of the landscape. This construction of the landscape is inspired by his studies of the compositions of Velázquez, whose work he admired while in Spain at the Academy of San Fernando in the early 1950s. The interest in the recession and imposition of space seen in Velázquez's works is also present in Botero's. A metaphor for Colombian cultural nationalism, the landscape and its manipulation becomes an important signifier in all of Botero's works.
The perspective of the painting allows us to see the woman walking her dog from a vantage point just above her. This, in turn, allows for a grandiose, dramatic view of the town in the distance. Botero's personal history, growing up very near the Andes, suggests a familiarity with this theatrical landscape in which the partially seen is combined with vertiginous perspectives. Stacked one atop the other, the little adobe homes--each with its typical red, terra cotta-tiled roof--denote an area of personal space within the larger landscape. Squeezed as they are between the monumental tree trunks, they become like metaphors for individuals crowding in the distance. At the very rear, the unmistakable steeple of a church is visible, underscoring the relationship between religion and space, between secular and religious architecture.
The gentle curvature of the earth is carefully and diligently rendered, reminding us of the immensity of the planet and the relative insignificance of man. Underscoring this view of man and nature are the gargantuan trees in the middle of the painting. These large, leafless and branchless trunks become the barriers between our view of the woman and the town in the distance. Pruned down to their very essence, they become like formal gestures that also make reference to architectural structures. As the stubby branches fan out overhead, the viewer is reminded of baroque structure and its ornamentation. This richness is reiterated by the abundant homes visible through the schematic trees.
The figure herself is also of interest and presents somewhat of an anomaly among her surroundings. She is clothed simply in a dress with ruffles at the hem, sleeves, and neckline. Her bright red high-heeled pumps and her modern little handbag seem inconsistent with the mere act of walking a dog. Though it is a well-worn path, its presence on a hill suggests the effort required to walk here. Despite this, she dominates the path, her energetic and elegant little dog leading the way. The possibilities linked to her walk and where it may lead are many, implying perhaps a clandestine meeting with a lover, the walk of the dog becoming a mere pretext.
Rocío Aranda-Alvarado, Ph.D.
1) The artist made this statement in 1958, having won a prize at the Salón Nacional de Artistas in Bogotá. http://karaart.com/botero/humanist3.html