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Fernando Botero Photo

Fernando Botero

Colombian Painter and Sculptor

Born: April 19, 1932 - Medellín, Colombia
Movements and Styles:
Political Artists
Satirical Artists
"When I think of reality, I think of a painted reality."
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Fernando Botero
"Sketching is almost everything. It is the painter's identity, his style, his conviction, and then color is just a gift to the drawing."
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Fernando Botero
"An artist is attracted to certain kinds of form without knowing why. You adopt a position intuitively; only later do you attempt to rationalize or even justify it."
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Fernando Botero
"My work is a self-portrait of my mind, a prism of my convictions."
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Fernando Botero
"I am not a slave to reality. I am a slave to art."
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Fernando Botero
"There's nothing more superficial to do than to paint a beautiful woman. The most beautiful portraits in art were of ugly women. If you paint Brigette Bardot, it's a disaster. Sunsets, you have to stay away from sunsets. You paint a sunset, you are in great danger."
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Fernando Botero
"Art is important because when people start to forget, art reminds them of what happened."
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Fernando Botero
"I'm the most Colombian of the Colombians."
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Fernando Botero
"I often think about death, and it saddens me to leave this world and not be able to paint more. I love it so much."
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Fernando Botero
"My popularity has to do with the divorce between modern art, where everything is obscure, and the viewer who often feels he needs a professor to tell him whether it's good or not. I believe a painting has to talk directly to the viewer, with composition, color and design, without a professor to explain it."
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Fernando Botero
"Art should be an oasis: a place or refuge away from the hardships of life."
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Fernando Botero
"Art is always an exaggeration in some sense; in color, in form, even in theme, etc... but it has always been this way."
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Fernando Botero
"The only duty of an artist is in the quality of the art. There is no moral obligation to denounce. An artist confronted with a tremendous injustice sometimes feels inclined to say something. Denouncing the situation is the artist's choice."
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Fernando Botero
"I have the sensation of doing something good for people, more than being a trendy artist or a successful artist."
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Fernando Botero
"Expression without culture is flat. Many artists come out of art school and start doing thing that don't last. They are audacious because of ignorance. They are irresponsible."
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Fernando Botero
"My subject matter is Colombia and it has always been Colombia; I lived many years in New York, in Paris, and I have never had the feeling to paint an American or a French subject matter. The thing is that the art - and the artist - must have roots in his own land, in his own life: my life is in Colombia, and my land is Colombia."
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Fernando Botero
"Colombia has two faces: the face of joy, happiness, celebration, dancing, music, etc. and the face of violence. At some point in my life, I had the feeling that I needed to make a testimony of this second face of Colombia"
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Fernando Botero

Summary of Fernando Botero

Botero is South America's best known, and best loved, living artist. A figurative painter and sculptor, his style - known throughout the world of art as "Boterismo" - is instantly recognizable for its exuberant and sensuous volumetric form. His rounded figures and objects, that are often infused with a sense of affectionate humor and charm, has seen the artist's distractors dismiss him as little more than a "painter of fat people". In fact, his oeuvre shows off an impressive thematic range. In addition to his scenes of everyday Colombian life; his human and animal portraits; and his series of luscious still lifes, Botero has proved willing to address more overtly political topics head-on. These pieces have included series' tackling Colombia's drugs cartels, and alleged human rights abuses perpetrated by the American military in Iraq. Botero has also produced a small, but highly distinctive, reworkings of iconic works from the canon of Western art.


  • Botero was first drawn to still lifes (and fruit especially) because, in his words, it helped make his voluminous style "stronger and clearer". But Botero was not, in his words, "a prisoner of reality". Having consigned his composition to memory, and on having devoured the mouth-watering fruit (typically an orange), the Colombian called on his imagination to represent what he called "the sensuality of the form and the voluptuousness and exuberance of nature".
  • Botero believes that art "should be an oasis, a place of refuge from the hardness of life". There is certainly a quirky charm to much of his work. But this worldview is counterbalanced by a picture content that can be seductively provocative. Through his Violence series, for instance, he addressed head-on his country's illegal drugs industry of which he said, "today you cannot ignore the violence, the thousands of displaced and dead, the processions of coffins. Against all my principles I had to paint [the violence]".
  • Looking beyond the political situation in his own country, Botero produced his Abu Ghraib series which was a direct reference/response to media reports of physical abuse on Iraqi prisoners by the American military. "I had to raise my voice as an artist to denounce the horror committed by the United States, and the hypocrisy of its denunciations of human rights violations in other parts of the world", he said. As with his Violence series, Botero refused to profit from the sale of the works and pledged to donate the paintings to any museum that would agree to display them permanently.
  • In addition to his exploration of themes relating to Colombian and Latin American culture and heritage, Botero has used his voluminous Boterismo style to pay personal homage to some of the canonical works of art history including Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434), Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503) and Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas (1656). Botero argues that these masterpieces "belong to us all" and his motivation to "modify" them was born of a desire, in his words, "to understand a painting in a more profound and complete way, its technique and the spirit that leads it".
  • Botero has produced numerous monumental sculptures that can be seen on city streets ranging from Medellín to New York; Florence to Paris; Madrid to Jerusalem; Bamberg to Yerevan. He produced these bronze pieces solely for the purposes of "feelings of pleasure". His sculptures, featuring human and animal figures, represented a natural evolution of his volumetric form into three-dimensions that positively invite the touch of human hands.

Biography of Fernando Botero

Botero's sculptures <i>Man with a stick</i> and <i>Woman with an umbrella</i> in Goslar, Germany

For Botero, whatever his subject matter, his theme "is Colombia and it has always been Colombia"; and despite extended stays in New York and Paris, he had "never had the feeling to paint an American or a French subject matter [...] the art - and the artist", he said, "must have roots in his own land, in his own life: my life is in Colombia, and my land is Colombia".

Important Art by Fernando Botero

Progression of Art

Portrait of a Young Indian

In this, one of Botero's earlier paintings, we see a dark-skinned, long-haired figure, wearing a light pink collared shirt, with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, matched with tan pants. The figure is seated on a small brown table, with his or her hands resting on the table. Behind the table is a white wall, upon which we see part of two artworks on either side of the figure. The figure's head is tilted slightly to the right. The eyes are not rendered in detail, so we are unsure if they are looking at the viewer, or slightly down and off to the side.

Before he developed his signature "Boterismo" style, Botero experimented with recreating various historical styles. He became so adept at a range of styles that, at his first exhibition in Colombia in 1952, many visitors believed it to be a group exhibition. This work shows the influence of the Post-Impressionist painters, such as Gauguin and Cezanne, with its course, visible brushstrokes. This is a sharp contrast to Botero's later style, in which brushwork is transparent and surfaces are rendered smoothly. The painting also predates the size distortion of figures and objects that characterizes "Boterismo", and the vibrant color palette that Botero adopted after his stay in Mexico in 1956.

Oil on canvas


Still Life with Violin

In this work, Botero paints a still life with fruit and a violin sitting on a tabletop swathed in light pink fabric. The objects in the image have been represented with the voluminosity that Botero's name would become associated with. The fruit are plump, and the seemingly inflated violin bulges outward along its edges. Even the fabric has a thick, "pudgy" quality. For Botero, painting in this manner expresses "the sensuality of the form and the voluptuousness and exuberance of nature expressed in art," and functions thus to elicit "pleasure" in the viewer. Responding to the common view of his painted objects and figures as "fat", Botero asserts that a more accurate term would be "volumetric". He explains, "I am convinced that painting must be generous, sensual, voluptuous, and I discovered a way to express this sensuality magnifying forms and volumes. You see, it is not a comment about fatness or thinness; it is the reflection of a certain way to conceive beauty in art".

Specifically, Botero considers the still life to be the purest form an artist can paint. He asserts that, if an artist can imagine a collection of fruit, for instance, "It shows the degree of conviction [...] It makes [his or her] style stronger and clearer". Botero is not, therefore, concerned with literal renderings of people or objects. Of an orange (his favorite fruit to paint) he says, "I look at it, then I eat it, then I paint it" adding that "I have never worked with models nor have I ever placed a dead piece of nature on the table to paint it [...] I have never wanted to be a prisoner to reality". The earliest work in which he mastered his Boterismo style was in fact a still life with a mandolin, painted in 1956 and he has continued to paint Boterismo still lifes, including Still Life with Ice Cream (1990) and Still Life with Books (1999), throughout his long career.

Oil on canvas

Woman with a Mirror (1987)

Woman with a Mirror

For his many public sculptures, Botero works with bronze, although when he began experimenting with sculpture in the mid-1960s, financial limitations had forced him to work with acrylic resin and sawdust. These early works proved too porous, and he could not produce the desired finish. As his success grew, however, he was able to afford better materials (and even set up a dedicated sculpture studio in Pietrasanta, Italy).

This oversized bronze sculpture is of a corpulent woman lying on her stomach. She holds a mirror in her left hand as she turns her head to the left. Her right hand touches her hair flirtatiously; her expression serene and thoughtful. In this, and similar public sculptures, Botero translates the voluminosity that characterizes his paintings into exuberent three-dimensional forms. Indeed, Botero's son (and biographer) Juan Carlos suggests that even when placed in grand locations, such as the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, or Park Avenue in New York City, these pieces are never "crushed" or dwarfed by the nearby architecture.

Many of his sculptures have been placed in outdoor public locations with the idea that pedestrians and passersby can interact with the works (children, for instance, can often be seen climbing and playing on his giant figures). Indeed, Botero designs his sculptures to provoke feelings of happiness and pleasure. Of Woman with the Mirror, the art historian Edward J. Sullivan writes that "It's impossible not to like Fernando Botero's sculpture, an outgrowth of the Colombian artist's constant search for three-dimensionality that pervades his popular paintings of puffy endomorphs. His sculpted women are monumental oceans of flesh, beckoning and vulnerable at once [...] Boisterous and touching at once, with echoes of pre-Columbian art, his oversized sculptures are a human comedy for our time".

Bronze - Plaza de Colón, Madrid, Spain


The Arnolfini after Van Eyck

In this work, Botero has recreated the composition of Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434), staying faithful to the original composition, the color scheme, and the main symbolic details (such as the dog representing loyalty and nobility, and the fruit on the windowsill representing original sin). However, he has inflated van Eyck's slender figures (particularly the wedded man and woman, as well as the dog at their feet), presenting them as rounded and plump in accordance with his "Boterismo" style. Botero had visited the original van Eyck work numerous times in the National Gallery in London, and created several of his own versions, starting as early as the 1970s.

Arts editor Alice Invernizzi writes that, "In each different version Botero has modified the composition, focusing above all on the relationship between the spectator and the spaces", and asserts that Botero's version is unique in "the way in which he uses pictorial illusionism to affirm and at the same time compromise the concept of realism in painting". Invernizzi adds that Botero has taken the liberty of presenting the female figure as definitively pregnant, with her hand placed simply upon her belly, whereas most art historians now agree that the female figure in van Eyck's portrait is not pregnant, but rather gathering and holding the heavy fabric of her fashionable dress in her hand.

Botero has paid homage to several art historical masterpieces, using the Boterismo style to turn Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa (1503) into Mona Lisa, Age Twelve (1959), Raphael's La Fornarina (1518-20) into his own La Fornarina (2009), and Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas (1656) into La Menina (1982). Botero has explained that the themes of these famous works "are so important to me as they become popular and more or less belonging to all. Only then can I do something different with them. Sometimes I just want to understand a painting in a more profound and complete way, its technique and the spirit that leads it". It seems, moreover, that the Arnolfini Portrait was an ideal work for Botero to adapt since it allowed him to rejoice in the voluminous quality of the human figure in contemporary art (and even in the detail of the rear view of the figures caught on the wall-mounted convex mirror).

Oil on canvas - Private collection


Car Bomb

Car Bomb, a dizzying, chaotic, composition, comes from a series of twenty-seven drawings and twenty-three paintings that Botero produced which focus on drug-related violence in Colombia. In the foreground an exploding blue automobile crumbles as flames burst out through the windows and windshield and blue and grey pieces of the wrecked car are being projected outward. In the background, the explosion has affected nearby houses which are toppling over, their balconies, doors, and roof-slates slanting at angles.

Other works in the "Violence" series include El Cazador (1999), in which a man holding a submachine gun stands with one foot on a corpse who has been riddled with bullets, and Massacre in the Cathedral (2002), which shows the aftermath of a rebel rocket attack that killed 120 citizens. Many of the works in the series juxtapose dramatic scenes against tranquil, placid scenery and landscapes, highlighting the horror of drug violence in the country. Colombian journalist Juan Forero notes that "Though the paintings and sketches in the war collection maintain the bright colors and sharp texture of his other works, they are filled with raw energy and agony", while Elvira Cuervo de Jaramillo, director of the National Museum in Bogotá, says that ''What [Botero] transmits is immense pain when we see figures of massacres, of death, of torture. They do not produce pleasure, or smiles. They are meant to move you. They chill you to your bones".

Botero's Violence series does not depict real events, but rather, shows the artist's own vision of what was happening in his country. He also explains that he had no illusions that the works would contribute to the lessening of violence in Colombia, but rather, hoped for them to serve as a "testimonial to a terrible moment, a time of insanity in this country [...] ''If they make an impression on the public, I have completed the mission of showing the absurdity of the violence". As a footnote, he explained that he had had "no intention of earning money exploiting Colombia's drama", and rather than going up for sale, every work in the series was to be donated free to a museum, so that the Colombian people "can see their history".

Oil on canvas - Private collection


Abu Ghraib 46

In this harrowing painting, three naked and blindfolded men lie on a brown floor, in front of iron bars that indicates that they are in a prison cell. Bright red blood is seen on the wall at the left-hand side, as well as on the men, particularly on their knees, shoulders, elbows, hands, and buttocks. The two men closest to the viewer lay on their sides, with their backs to the viewer, and their hands bound behind their backs. It is unclear if they are dead or alive. They both wear green blindfolds. The man in the middle also has his feet bound together with rope. The man furthest back is on his knees and forearms, and vomit is spewing from his mouth. His blindfold is red.

After he produced his series on Columbian drug violence, Botero continued to work with disturbing subject matter based on real events. This work comes from his Abu Ghraib series, which was comprised of eighty-five paintings and one hundred drawings inspired by the shocking news of the inhumane torture of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of American soldiers. Botero says that when he read this news, "I immediately felt that I had to do something about it. I had to raise my voice as an artist to denounce the horror committed by the United States, and the hypocrisy of its denunciations of human rights violations in other parts of the world".

Human rights attorney Marc Falkoff writes that Botero's Abu Ghraib series is a "wonderful project" that begins "to restore our humanity by making the victims of our complacency visible to us. [...] In times like these, we must rely on art - the great vehicle for empathy - to restore to us our innate compassion [...] and to move us toward protest and engagement". As with his Violence series, Botero refused to profit from the works, and instead promised to donate them to any museum that would agree to put them on permanent display. Botero's New York gallery, which first exhibited the Abu Ghraib works, received hate mail for some who interpreted the work as anti-American. It was a charge strongly refuted by the artist: "Anti-American it's not ... Anti-brutality, anti-inhumanity, yes ... I'm sure the vast majority of people here don't approve of this. And the American press is the one that told the world this is going on. You have freedom of the press that makes such a thing possible".

Oil on canvas - University of California, Berkeley Art Museum


Circus People

In this vibrant painting, Botero presents a group of circus performers who appear to be sitting around, outside of their caravans either before or just after a performance. A large, fleshy woman wearing a blue bikini, brown knee-high boots, and a gold headdress with a red feather, lays on a purple carpet with a red and yellow snake slithering across her body. Beside her, a small white dog with a pink collar and white pointed hat sits up on its hind legs. Behind the dog is a man seated on a green box with a monkey on his hand. To his right is a large, muscular man in green tights and a red tank top, in the process of swallowing a sword. Beside him is a dwarf dressed in a white clown costume. Behind him a woman dressed in green opens the shutter of a trailer. A` red and yellow striped big top tent can be seen in the background, and beyond that, a landscape of trees and mountains.

In 2006, having spent a decade-or-so on "difficult" subject matter, Botero returned to more pleasurable themes in his art. He says that working on the Violence and Abu Ghraib series was "grim", "depressing", and "emotionally exhausting", so he, and his wife Sophia, took a vacation in Mexico. While in the coastal town of Zihuantanejo, they visited a travelling circus. Botero was immediately struck by the colors, movements, and characters of the circus, and found in them the ideal subject for his art. He notes that "the circus had been a very attractive theme for many well-known and lesser-known artists, a subject dignified in the work of Renoir, Seurat, Lautrec, Picasso, Chagall, Léger, Calder and many others". Botero has produced more than 120 oil paintings and 200 drawings on this theme.

Arts writer Curtis Bill Pepper writes that "Botero's distinctive exaggerated forms perfectly complement the exaggerated atmosphere of the circus". Botero himself explains that "There is no other human activity that presents the visual artist with the human body in poses like the circus. [...] At the same time, there is the poetry that captures the philosophy of life: nomadic people who live in wagons and who have the circus as the permanent background of their lives". The circus that inspired Botero was a "poor" circus, what he called "a very Latin American version of a universal theme". As his son and biographer Juan Carlos Botero observes, the characters in the "Circus" works wear the hardships of their lives in their expressions, yet the artist does not deride or mock them from a superior position. Instead, he treats them with humanity, and portrays them with a gentle and tender humour that is decidedly "not funny".

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Fernando Botero
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
  • No image available
    Sophia Vari
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    Mari Rodríguez Ichaso
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    Álvaro Mutis
Movements & Ideas
  • No image available
    New Figuration
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd

"Fernando Botero Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Alexandra Duncan
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Antony Todd
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First published on 03 Jan 2022. Updated and modified regularly
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