In looking at Botero's Les Amants one immediately recognizes the artist's whimsical and voluminous style to depict everyday scenes. Botero has painted a variety of subjects illustrating the rich variety of everyday life. Men leaving home for work, people walking down the streets of small towns, cafés, bars and even bordellos are but a few of the recurring themes the artist has represented throughout his oeuvre. Les Amants depicts a business man relaxing in an idyllic forest nearby a bustling city with a young naked woman. The gentleman is larger than life, whiles the woman, smaller in scale, is coquettishly contemplating the viewer.
What usually escapes the first glance is the variety of issues that lie behind these humorous paintings. Botero is a great admirer of art history and a true believer of the power of representation of art through the ages. Botero has dutifully studied history of art and conscientiously worked on creating paintings that comment on art history while carrying a clear and meaningful message about contemporary life, particularly in Colombia, his country of origin.
One notable element of the present painting is the classical structure of the composition. From the use of perspective in Ucello until Céezanne's fragmentation of the composition into geometric shapes, the way of arranging the objects within the canvas have changed drastically. Botero has chosen to reject some of the more contemporary compositional arrangements in favor of a classical structure that allows a reading from left to right. In these works the subject is usually positioned in the center. Botero wants the viewer to contemplate the beauty of the woman, the beauty of nature and particularly, the power of man.
In the present painting, a reference to Romanticism is clear. The relationship between man and nature, the loss of paradise and civilization are concerns in Botero's painting. Les Amants is clearly a scene in which the idea of Arcadia is present. There sits man and woman in an idyllic landscape with the city at a distance, and beyond, unreachable, yet imminently present, are the mountains. The lush green trees, as opposed to the dead trees and fallen trunks seen in Poussin or Lorrain, symbolize youth and fecundity. Civilization is symbolized by a distant view of a city of which the spectator can only see the terracotta roofs. The grandiosity of nature is represented by the mountains, which frame the composition in the classical tradition. "Whether created in Easthampton, Manhattan, Paris, Cajica, or Bogota, Botero's paintings from the migratory period between 1966 and 1975 can be distinguished from those of his earlier classical phase. Although the technically adroit artist returned repeatedly to favorite themes and images, changes could be observed in his approach to still lifes as well as to the Old Masters." (C. J. McCabe, Fernando Botero, exh.cat., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, 1979, p. 17).
Botero's work has been inspired by the idea of the representation of the nude through the ages. In exploring the female body in painting, Botero is conscious of Giorgioni and Titian's device of disguising the nude under mythological and epic subjects. Giorgioni's Fête Champetre and the Titian's Feast of the Gods can be considered among the first paintings that rendered the female nude in the open air, concentrating on the beauty of the woman without eroticizing the body. Other examples include Manet's Le déjeneur sur l'herbe and Les demoiselles du bord de la Seine by Courbet, where the nude in Les Amants appears disguised under the late 19th century convention of representing leisure and every day life in painting.
Edouard Manet, Le Déjeuner sur L'Herbe, 1862-1863 Louvre, Paris
Gustav Courbet, Les Demoiselles des Bords de la Seine, 1856-1857, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris