“I describe in a realistic form a nonrealistic Reality.”
Fernando attends the primary school and thanks to a loan he continues his schooling in the Jesuit secondary school in Medellín. His first known piece of work is a watercolor of a matador. When he was 12 his uncle, who was a big fan of bullfighting, enrolls him in a matador school where he will remain for two years. From this experience comes his enormous passion for this topic.
In 1948, he exhibits for the first time in natal city, together with other artists of Antioquia. He is just a sixteen-year-old student, but he draws the illustrations for the cultural supplement of the most important daily paper in Medellín called “El Colombiano”.
In this period, the works of the Mexican school of muralist artists (like Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco) have a deep impact on him and are manifest in a large watercolor painting such as Crying Woman (1949), which reveals Orozco’s influence particularly in his work.
From his early years Botero was impressed by the colored figures of Saints and big altars in the Colonial Baroque and pre-Colombian style. In his hometown there were no modern paintings, not at least until 1948, when the first news about the European contemporary art arrived. It was during a historical period known in Colombia as La Violencia (The Violence), in which Liberal and Conservative partisans fought cruelly against each other, that young intellectuals discovered poets like Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Angel Asturias and, above all, Cesar Vallejo. In one of the books on the History of Modern Arts, Botero reads Picasso’s name for the first time. His drawings for the daily paper “El Colombiano” had already cost him a warning on the part of the headmaster of the school but one of his articles, titled “Picasso and Nonconformity in Art”, caused his expulsion from the secondary school.
Botero gets into Liceo San Jose in Marinilla. Making the illustrations for the papers he pays his studies that end, according to his school certificate, in 1950. After that he works for two months as a set designer for a Spanish theatre group “Lope de Vega” whose touring stops even in Medellín. In January 1952 Botero moves to Bogota, the capital of Colombia. Attending the café Automatico, he starts meeting some Colombian avant-garde intellectuals among which were the great Colombian poet León de Greiff and the writer Jorge Zalamea, who was the Ambassador in Mexico and a great friend of García Lorca. Only 5 months after his arrival in Bogota, Botero has his first solo show exhibiting 25 watercolours, gouaches, drawings and oils at the Galery Leo Matiz and sells all his works. Being encouraged by this first result, Fernando uses the money he gained to spend some time in Tolu on the Caribbean coast and on the islands of Morrosquillo bay. The paintings of that period reveal Gaugin’s influence and Picasso’s “pink” and “blue” period. Those visiting Tolu today may still see the murals by means of which Botero paid his meals and stay at the hostel of Isonlina.
In his second show in the Leo Matiz’s Gallery in May 1952, he exhibits the paintings he had done in Tolu. In August his painting On the Coast (1952) wins the second place at the IX Show of Colombian Artists held in the Bogota National Library. With the money he earned from the prize, he goes to Europe. With a third-class ticket he boards the ship to Barcelona where he will remain for a few days.
He moves to Madrid and studies briefly in the San Fernando Academy, where he is inspired by the works of the great masters of Prado Museum: Velazquez and Goya, He earns money by copying famous paintings for tourists. “At school each of us was trying to gain his own style, instead, I was trying to learn the craft” he says about that period.
After a year in Madrid, Botero goes to Paris. He is not attracted by modern art: the French avant-garde by which he was so fascinated in Colombia and which he can see now in the Museum of Modern Art, disappoints him. He spends most of his time in the Louvre studying the old masters’ paintings.
At the end of the summer Botero goes to Italy and gets into the Academy of San Marco in Florence. While the “tachism” has started to affirm itself in Europe, he still works as a Renaissance artist, not copying Velazquez and Goya anymore, but painters such as Giotto and Andrea del Castagno.
He studies the “fresco” technique of the painting for 18 months and Roberto Longhi’s lessons on the history of art of the 15th century increases his enthusiasm for the Renaissance. In the evening he works in oils in his study in Panicale Street, which belonged to Fattori, a Macchiaioli painter.
He goes to Arezzo to see the paintings by Piero della Francesca, then to Siena, Venice, Ravenna and other artistic centers of Italy. In the spring of 1954, Botero goes to see in Florence the exhibition dedicated to Piero della Francesca, Paolo Uccello, Andrea del Castagno and Masaccio. The painting typical of this stage is the “Departure” in which one can observe the influence of Paolo Uccello’s horses and Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical atmosphere.
In March, Botero gets back to Bogota with his 20 new pieces of work. The exhibition he stages at the National Library of Bogota with the works he had brought from Florence is disastrous. The critics, only sensitive to the prevailing art tendencies in the Paris art galleries, react severely against his works. Botero does not sell a single painting either. He finds occasional jobs as an illustrator for various newspapers. In December he marries Gloria Zea.
At the beginning of the year the married couple goes to Mexico City where their first son, Fernando, was born. In his “Still Life with Mandolin”, for the first time the artist discovers the possibility to expand and exaggerate the volume of the forms. He lives by selling his paintings in Mexico.
He mounts his first personal exhibition in the United States in Washington, set up in April 1957 by the Pan American Union. During the first week spent in America, he visits the museums of New York and discovers the world of abstract expressionism.
He meets Tania Gres who will set up an art gallery in Washington and who will offer him both moral and material support.
In May Botero goes back to Bogota. In October at the X Colombian Show he gets the second award for his work “Counterpoint”.
His daughter Lina is born. At the age of 27 Botero has been appointed professor of painting at the Academy of Arts, thus affirming him as one of the most important young Colombian painters.
He makes some illustrations for “La siesta del martes” (The Tuesday Nap) for the writer Gabriel García Marquez, that will be published in the most important Colombian daily newspaper: “El Tiempo” In an enthusiastic article in the magazine “Cromos” Jorge Zalamea writes down; “At the XI Colombian Show, Botero has presented the best painting he has ever made: “Camera degli sposi, a homage to Mantegna”, a free interpretation of Mantegna’s famous fresco in Palazzo Ducale in Mantova. Initially, the jury had excluded his work but in a second moment, due to the protests by the art leagues in Bogota and reactions from the press, the jury meets and awards him the first prize.
In October “La Camera Degli Sposi” and “The Sleeping Bishop” are exhibited at his first exhibition in the art gallery Gres in Washington, obtaining a considerable success. Almost all his works are sold during the opening day of the exhibition.
Botero also exhibits at the New York Guggenheim Museum under the aegis of the Guggenheim International Award (Guggenheim International Award 1958).
At the Colombian Salon in 1959 Botero presents “Apotheosis of Ramón Hoyos”, the national cycling champion. Botero still feels attracted by Velazquez and paints over 10 versions of “Niño de Vallecas”. This monochrome painting with impulsive strokes reveals the influence of the abstract expressionism.
Between February and April, Botero dedicates to his only large fresco due to the intervention by the part of the Banco Hipotecario in Medellín.
His son Juan Carlos is born in Bogotá. The Colombian art critic Marta Traba and the jury appoint him the representative of Colombia at the II Biennial Exhibition in Mexico.
In Bogota Botero and his friends protest against the fierce opposition that this decision had stirred up. In October the painter is in Washington for the occasion of his second exhibition at the Gres Gallery. Many collectors who have been fascinated by his colours first now stand bewildered in front of the series of “Niño de Vallecas”. Botero leaves his country for the third time and with very little money moves to New York. At that time, his knowledge of English is very limited. He rents a loft in Greenwich Village at the corner of Mac Dougall Street and the 3rd Street. The world of art is dominated by the Expressionism of New York School.
The Gres Gallery that has supported him up to that moment closes. Botero and Gloria Zea divorce.
In June Botero loans some of his paintings and 12 illustrations for “El Gran Burunda ha muerto” by Jorge Zalamea.
On Dorothy C Miller’s initiative, curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA), the Museum acquires the first version of his “Mona Lisa, age 12”. Regarding this work, Alfred H Barr writes in his introduction to the brochure, “You can’t admire this queer work without taking a stand”.
His first exhibition in a Gallery in New York, “The Contemporaries” is fiercely criticized.
While “Mona Lisa” by Leonardo da Vinci is on show at the Metropolitan Museum, the (MoMA) exhibits “Mona Lisa, Age 12” by Botero. The painter moves his study to the lower part of the city on the East Side.
He marries Cecilia Zambrano. He wins the second award at the Salon Intercol of Young Artists mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in Bogota with his work “Apples”.
He builds up a summerhouse in Long Island and rents a new study on the 14th Street in New York.
Botero’s fully developed plastic style becomes visible for the first time in his work “The Pinzon Family”.
His compacted tones made up of precise and elegant strokes give way to delicate colours. Regarding the choice of his topic, he explains: “Although I have painted a number of portraits, I don’t work directly with models because I feel limited, they take away my liberty. I prefer working completely free and follow my own imagination”.
He is attracted by Rubens and paints four paintings inspired by the portrait of Helene Fourment that the great master painted.
In January Botero mounts his first important European exhibition at the Kunst Halle in Baden- Baden in Germany. The exhibition is later shown at the Buchholz Gallery in Munich.
From September to December the painter has his first solo exhibition in an American museum, The Milwaukee Art Center, with the title” Botero’s Recent Works” which brings him great success. The article in the “Time” magazine is very positive.
The following years Botero spends a lot of time between Colombia, New York and Europe. He visits Italy and Germany. In Munich and Nurnberg, he becomes fascinated by Durer, which gives life to “Dureroboteros”, a series of large charcoal drawings mimicking the German artist’s famous paintings. At the same time, he also feels attracted by Manet, from which the famous “Déjeuner sur I’Herbe” he will interpret repeatedly in his very own style.
Bonnard and his paintings portraying women bathers also fascinate him. During this time, he states, “After having been colonized for centuries we, Latin American artists, feel the need to find our own genuineness. The art should be independent…I want my painting to have roots because it is only, they that can give meaning and truth to the creation. But, at the same time I do not want to paint only South American peasants. I should be able to paint everything, even Marie Antoinette and Luis XVI, hoping always that all that I create will be pervaded by the Latin American soul…”.
In March Botero shows some paintings and large charcoal drawings at the Center For Inter- American Relations in New York. In September he mounts his first solo exhibition in Paris at the Claude Bernard Gallery.
His son Pedro is born in New York. In March he organizes a touring exhibition in Germany including 80 paintings. The show opens at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden and goes on at the Haus am Waldsee in Berlin, at the Kunstverein in Dusseldorf, at the Hamburg Kunstverein and at the Kunstballe in Bielefeld.
Botero rents a flat in Boulevard du Palais, in ÎIe de la Cité and spends his time between Paris and Bogota and his new study on the 5th Avenue in New York.
In February his first large scale show at the Marlborough Gallery in New York takes place.
Botero works in his new study in Paris in Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, buys a summer house in Cajica in the north of Bogota where he will spend several months of the year from then onward.
After 13 years Botero leaves New York and moves to Paris. He makes his first sculptures.
In April he mounts his first retrospective in Bogotá, featuring works from 1948 to 1972.
His four-year-old son Pedro dies in a car accident in Spain. Botero himself sustains serious injuries. After the car accident he makes many drawings, paintings and sculptures in which he represents his son Pedro.
Botero gets divorced from Cecilia Zambrano.
He marries the Greek artist, Sophia Vari.
Following the great retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Art in Caracas, the President of Venezuela decorates him with the Andrés Bello Order, a very high cultural distinction in that country.
He exhibits his large watercolors at the Claude Bernard Gallery.
Botero devotes exclusively to the sculpture. In these years he makes 25 sculptures of diverse topics.
Botero is awarded the Cruz de Boyacá by the Colombian Government in recognition for his services to Colombia. In Medellín the Museum Zea opens a new room bearing the name Sala Pedro Botero. Botero donates 16 works portraying his son Pedro. In October his sculptures are shown for the first time at the Fiac in Paris. A series of versions of “Meninas” based on Velazquez’s Meninas are the result of Botero’s last and deep analysis of the old master.
Botero moves his study in Paris to Rue du Dragon, the old venue of the Académie Julien. He starts painting again.
Retrospective and touring exhibitions in Europe (Belgium, Norway, Sweden) and in the USA.
His first USA retrospective exhibition is shown at the Hirschborn Museum in Washington, organized by Cyntba da McCabe (1979).
At the Gallery of Beyeler in Basel his watercolors, drawings and sculptures are exhibited.
Botero illustrates his short stories published by “EI Tiempo” (1980).
Botero has a retrospective in Tokyo and Osaka in Japan (1981) and an exhibition of watercolors and drawings at the Gallery II Gabbiano in Rome (1981).
The Metropolitan Museum acquires his “Dancing in Colombia”. Botero makes illustrations for Garcia Marquez’s “Crónica de una muerte anunciada” for the first number of the magazine “Vanity Fair”. He moves to Pietrasanta in Tuscany, famous for its marble cases where he works on his sculptures for a couple of months a year.
He donates some sculptures to the Antioquia Museum in Medellín in which a room is suitably mounted and he also donates 18 paintings to the National Museum in Bogotá. Around this time, Botero decides to dedicate exclusively to the bullfighting scenes. Since he was a kid, he had been an admirer, an expert and a follower of bullfighting because in Colombia the corrida was as important as in Spain. According to what he says, his wish is to reach the point in which “people speaking of bulls will automatically think of my painting”.
At the end of April, 25 paintings, illustrations and drawings of various stages of La Corrida are shown for the first time at the Marlborough Gallery in New York. He also exhibits at the Museum of Ponce in Puerto Rico.
In January the Museum of Contemporary Art exhibits his drawings of the four previous years. Further retrospective exhibitions are staged in Munich, Bremen, Frankfurt (1987), Tokyo and some other Japanese cities.
A retrospective exhibition is held at the Center of Art Reina Sofia in Madrid.
In December, the exhibition entitled “La Corrida” including 86 works (oils, watercolors and drawings) representing various stages and personalities of the bullfight is shown in Sala Visconte in the Sforzesco Castle in Milan.
The exhibition “La Corrida” opens in Italy, in the Ovo Castle of Naples and the Albergo delle Povere in Palermo.
There is also retrospective exhibition in the Casino de Knokke le Zoute in Belgium.
“La Corrida” is also shown in the Museum of Art in Coro (January-February) and in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (March), Tamayo Museum in Mexico City and Art Show in Los Angeles (sculptures).
Retrospective at the Pierre Gianadda Foundation in Martigny, Switzerland.
At the Marlborough Gallery in New York his latest sculptures are shown.
Brusberg Gallery, Berlin, Germany.
Forte di Belvedere, Florence, Italy.
Marlborough Gallery in Tokyo.
Retrospective exhibition (1949-1991) at the Palace of Esposizioni in Rome where be exhibits oils, sculptures, drawings and “La Corrida”.
He displays his enormous sculptures in Parisian Champs-Élysées as well as the series of Corrida in the Grand Palais. The following year the exhibition tours Avignon and then the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.
A big exhibition of monumental sculptures takes place in the open public spaces of the main European cities. In the same year some other exhibitions of monumental sculptures are organized in Chicago and Madrid and a retrospective is organized in Buenos Aires.
In Medellín a terrorist attack destroys the artist’s big bronze sculpture he had donated a few years earlier. The artist will later donate an identical bird bronze sculpture as a sign of peace and hope.
He exhibits a cycle of pastels at the Didier Imbert Gallery in Paris and in 1996 he presents his latest oils at a show organized at the Marlborough Gallery in New York.
He has important exhibitions at the National Museum of Fine Art in Santiago de Chile and at the
Museum of Modern Art in Lugano, Switzerland. In addition, he exhibits at the Gallery II Gabbiano in Rome, Thomas Gallery in Munich and Mario Sequeira Gallery in Lisbon and has a retrospective exhibition at the museum in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo and Monterrey.
He exhibits his monumental sculptures in Piazza della Signoria and in the Piazzale degli Uffizi while his oils and smaller sculptures are exhibited in Sala d’Arme in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
He donates his important private collections of works of the 19th and 20th century to the city of Medellín and Bogotá, in Colombia.
In Mexico City a retrospective called “Fernando Botero 50 años de vida artistica” is mounted while at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and at the Arken Museum of Modern Art in Copenhagen there is an important show of his works.
In the Netherlands an exhibition of painting, pastels and sculptures is organized. In the same year some of his monumental sculptures are exhibited along the Grand Canal in Venice.
In 2004, Botero starts painting a new cycle of works inspired by the dramatic conditions of prisoners in Abu Ghraib in Iraq. The first pieces of this work are presented the following year at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome.
In the United States, the Abu Ghraib series was exhibited for the first time in 2006, at the Marlborough Gallery in New York. Afterwards it is taken to the University of California, Berkeley, and at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington.
The following year, the major retrospective entitled “The Baroque World of Fernando Botero”, put together by Art Services International of Alexandria, Virginia, starts its American tour. Beginning at the Musee National des Beaux-Arts du Quebec, it visited nine high-profile venues, including the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Brooks Museum of Art in Memphis, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento.
Between September and November of the same year, fifteen of his monumental bronze sculptures were exhibited at the Lustgarten in Berlin, In Milan, the exhibition “Botero, Works 1994-2007” was staged at the Palazzo Reale.
In this period, numerous solo shows of Botero’s work were held across the world, including those at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno in Valencia, the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, the Pera Museum in Istanbul and the Szepmuveszeti Muzeum in Budapest.
In 2008, the Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon in Mexico awarded Botero an honorary degree, and the following year, the University of California, Berkeley, bestowed a “Chancellor’s Citation” on him.
Botero began to paint a new cycle of works focusing on the Passion of Christ. His works also appeared on an on-going basis in a plethora of exhibitions. In 2011, solo shows of Botero’s work were held at the Kunstforum in Vienna and at the Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca in Locarno.
His works inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which included around thirty oil paintings and the same number of drawings, were unveiled for the first time at the Marlborough Gallery in New York.
On 19 April, 2012, Botero turned eighty and several museums around the world staged exhibitions to celebrate this milestone. Major retrospectives were held at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the Museo de Bellas Artes in Bilbao.
The Tuscan town of Pietrasanta, of which Botero is an honorary citizen, organized a series of events that culminated in the “Fernando Botero, Disegnatore e Scultore” exhibition.
In 2013, Botero exhibited his works at the Galerie Thomas in Munich and the Galerie Gmurzynska in Zurich.
In conjunction with the celebrations marking the bicentennial of Verdi’s birth in October, a solo show of Botero’s work was held at the Palazzo dei Governatori in Parma, Italy. After visiting Medellín, Lisbon and Panama, the exhibition entitled “Via Crucis, La Passione di Cristo” reached the Palazzo Reale in Palermo in March 2015.
> BOTERO IN CHINA
- – “Botero in China: the works of Fernando Botero” was held at the National Museum of China in Beijing in November 2015.
- – “Botero in China: the works of Fernando Botero” was held at the China Art Museum, Shanghai in January 2016.
- – Botero in Hong Kong. 9 Monumental sculpture exhibition at the Central Harbour Frount.
> BOTERO AND PICASSO
Botero, Dialogue Avec Picasso. Aix en Provence, France. November 2017 Botero currently lives and works in Paris, Monte Carlo, Pietrasanta and New York.