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. Botero’s paintings are populated by colorful characters like the circus-performer, bullfighter or politician who appear as prototypes rather than individuals. In particular, the various roles that society has circumscribed for women, from matriarch to prostitute or the Virgen Mary to Eve, have been a constant source of inspiration for the artist. Indeed, as early as the late 1960s, when his now world-renowned signature style first began to coalesce, Botero was experimenting with depictions of First Ladies, grandmothers and patron saints. Decades later, this fascination with female types continues both in his sculptures and paintings.
Woman in a Green Dress thus stems from this long tradition of female portraiture in Botero’s oeuvre. Here the woman appears seductively dressed complete with red high heels, thigh-high stockings and hiked-up skimpy green dress. Standing firmly planted at the center of the composition, she appears as a formidable presence within a tightly compressed space. Pressed up against the picture plane, she fills almost the entirety of the ample canvas, a frequent compositional device seen in Botero’s work that serves to heighten the monumentality of his figures.
Casually smoking a cigarette while glancing off to the side, this woman seems completely unaware that she is the object of our gaze or of the green snake slithering up beside her. A recurrent motif, snakes can be found in many of Botero’s paintings and sculptures. While in the present work the snake adds a bit of levity to the painting, the serpent’s association with Eve and woman as temptress seems a likely interpretation here. Botero manages to seamlessly integrate this unexpected visitor into the scene by matching the woman’s dress, blush and eye shadow with the snake’s vibrant green skin. Indeed, Botero creates a perfectly harmonious palette by repeating a minimal number of colors throughout the composition—the pink of the woman’s stockings for example is echoed in the straps of her dress as well as the band in her hair while the yellow of the curtain appears again in the full glass sitting on the table and in the buckles of her shoes. While Botero’s careful color selection is clearly deliberate, the process for him is an organic one that allows for some spontaneity. As he has explained, “Generally, one color beside another suggests a third to me. In that way a sequence of improvisations, reactions, and reflections is triggered. There is invention in the act of painting” (quoted in A.M. Escallon, Botero: New Works on Canvas, New York, 1997, p. 42).
In Woman in a Green Dress, the strong color choices also imbue the work with a satirical undertone. There is an element of humor in the green blush of the woman and her seemingly too tiny strikingly red shoes. As in the best of Botero’s work, Woman in a Green Dress combines wit and whimsy with a sobering portrait of the working class, rendered with the artist’s characteristic, pristine approach to painting.