Over the past six decades, Fernando Botero has produced a clearly defined body of work that is immediately recognizable by its iconic rotund figures representing distinct types of people. While colorful characters like the circus-performer, bullfighter and prostitute are among Botero’s favored types, the traditional family has always been a constant source of exploration for the artist. Indeed, when asked what he considered the most Latin American theme in his painting, Botero declared the family to be the subject “par excellence,” further noting its significance for its formal possibilities, “I like it because the complex composition admits surprise solutions,” as well as its historical resonance, “There is a beautiful history of family portraits in the history of art.” Such a statement synthesizes the essential principles of the artist's oeuvre, which is both steeped in the Old Masters he discovered while studying in Spain and Italy in the 1950s and informed by contemporary life in his native Colombia, all of which is woven together and rendered with careful attention to the formal qualities of his medium.
At the center of all Botero families, there is a dominant matriarch and the present lot is no exception. In A Family, Botero’s formidable mother appears as the archetype of woman as nurturer. Sitting nursing her baby boy while her older son leans on her thigh, she provides both sustenance and support to her young brood. Surrounded by two more children, an attentive nanny and an exceptionally large cat, she is a calming anchor in the midst of domestic chaos. Notably absent from this cheerful home is a father figure; presumably he is fulfilling his traditional role of provider and is off at work in the public sphere, yet there may also be a subtle autobiographical reference here. When Botero was just four years old, his own father died, leaving him and his two brothers and mother alone and destitute. While such a well-appointed home complete with hired help, no doubt bears little resemblance to Botero’s own humble beginnings, the idea of the domestic space as one occupied by women and children only was surely ingrained in him.
As in the best of Botero’s works, A Family boasts a carefully calibrated palette. Composed of strong primary colors that reverberate throughout the work, from the vibrant red repeated in the baton on the floor, in the young boy’s shirt, in the mother’s nails and the ribbon of the cat to the cornflower blue in the little girl’s doll, the mother’s dress and the cat’s ball, the painting reveals Botero’s deliberate approach to achieving chromatic balance and harmony. In contrast to the brightly painted family, two black and white artworks hang on the wall. This pictorial device of a painting within a painting, that spurs the viewer to consider the artist’s clever illusion of three dimensions on a two dimensional surface, is one that Botero no doubt learned from studying the Old Masters and 19th-century precedents. In an additional play of perspective, Botero opens the door to the house, providing a glimpse of the city beyond. The distant green mountains, distinctive terracotta roofs and cobblestone streets seen in so many of the Botero’s works, clearly place this home in the artist’s native Medellín. Painted in 1997, more than forty years after he first left Colombia and began his journey towards becoming one of the world’s most recognized and celebrated artists, A Family still shows Botero reminiscing about home.
1 Fernando Botero quoted in Ana María Escallón, Botero: New Works on Canvas, New York, Rizzoli, p. 36.