“For my entire life, I've felt as if I had something to say in terms of sculpture. It's a very strong desire...pleasure—that of touching the new reality that you create. Certainly, in a painting you give the illusion of truth, but with sculpture, you can touch its reality . . . . If I paint a knife in my pictures, it's imaginary, but if I sculpt it, then the sensation of having it in your hand is real— it's an object from your spirit, it's a sensual experience even in its execution. It brings a special joy to touch the material with your hands.” 
Working across all media—painting, sculpture and works on paper—Colombian artist Fernando Botero has developed a signature style that is celebrated and admired world-wide. From his earliest paintings he did as a boy, to his present day creations, Botero’s art can be characterized by an unwavering interest in volume and form. In no medium is this rendered more evident than his bronze sculptures. From his larger-than-life dancing couples, to table top sculptures of animals such as Dog on a Cushion (1987), Botero’s subjects are familiar, almost ordinary, and yet through his unique treatment of form, these subjects take on new life. Tabletop sculptures of animals—horses, cats, birds, and dogs—are particularly appealing, both for the small size and subject matter. With Dog on a Cushion, the attentive gaze of the little pooch captivates us, while the fluid lines and glossy patina beckon us to run our hand across the smooth surface and experience the physicality of the form.
Mankind's fascination with animals is as ancient as the history of art itself. From the Paleolithic cave paintings of Lascaux depicting bulls and horses, to Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog, animals have long captivated the imagination of artists. Sculptures depicting animals have taken many forms throughout history, from human-animal hybrids such as the great Sphynx of Giza, to ritual objects used for religious practice in ancient Mesopotamia, to decorative elements of medieval jewelry and objects. Occupying a space somewhere between the physical and spiritual worlds, animals convey a sense of majesty and their presence in art imbues the object with an element of splendor.
Dogs have a particularly rich history in art. In Greek art for example we see numerous sculptures and literary references to the mythological three-headed dog Cerebrus, guardian of the underworld and servant to the god Hades. Similarly, in the Far East, figurines of dogs and other animals accompanied early Chinese burial tombs to help guide the spirit and protect the deceased. In medieval art, as can be seen in The Unicorn Tapestries, dogs were depicted in hunting scenes, as faithful and fearless aids to their masters. Later, the 18th and 19th centuries saw the rise of animal portraiture, horses and dogs being among the most common. The work of 19th century anamalier Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-1873) still figure among the most celebrated of this genre. With detailed anatomical accuracy, Landseer's dogs appear as dignified and soulful creatures, their gaze communicating an almost human-like conscience (coincidently, Landseer rose to fame at the same time that the first animal cruelty laws were passed in Britain). As guardian or hunter, the dog has historically been portrayed as man’s protector and companion, loyal to the end to those he serves and at times ferocious forces of nature to those that challenge him or his kin.
Botero’s Dog on a Cushion presents us with something quite different, more akin in spirit to the pampered lapdogs we might find in a Rococo painting by Fragonard. There is a distinct element of humor in the execution. Here, the little dog sits, perched atop a sumptuous pillow, tail curled up, ears perked, eyes focused, tongue out, as if waiting to be pet. Whiskers protrude from his snout making him appear almost feline. Delightful and peculiar, this little dog does not appear to pertain to any specific type or breed. As Botero admits: “I never sculpt from a model…my sculpture, like my painting is mostly a product of my imagination.” Indeed, an invention of Botero’s, this dog is featured in countless paintings, drawings and sculptures spanning the artist’s ample career. In city scenes such as The Street (1995) we see the same dog lurking in the crowded street as people pass and go about their daily routine. In portraits such as Man with Dog (1989) (lot 48) or La bañista (2005), Botero features the dog alongside disproportionately-large human figures, adding an element of whimsy, even absurdity to the composition. Dating to 1987, Dog on a Cushion is in itself an iteration of a sculpture the artist created nearly a decade earlier. A large-scale sculpture of this same dog, sans cushion, can also be found in the Plaza Botero in the artist’s hometown of Medellín.
1 As quoted in E. J. Sullivan, Botero Sculpture, New York, Abbeville Press, 1986, 13.