Fernando Botero, famous Colombian painter of over-sized subjects, dies in Europe at 91

Sep 16, 2023 | 0 comments

Colombian artist Fernando Botero in front of one his paintings in 2002.

Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who gained worldwide fame with his sculptures and paintings of corpulent figures, has died at the age of 91. His works feature outsized people and animals. But Botero also tackled politics and other serious subjects.

President Gustavo Petro called him “the painter of our traditions and defects, the painter of our virtues”.

Botero’s famous depiction of Mona Lisa.

The artist, who lived in Monaco, was suffering from pneumonia, his daughter Lina said on Friday.

Local media hailed Botero as the greatest Colombian artist of all time. His hometown, Medellín, has declared a week of mourning.

The son of a travelling salesman, Botero was born in 1932. In his 20s he travelled to Europe, where he discovered classical art before moving to the US in 1960. He said that in the late 1950s he discovered “a new dimension that was more voluminous, more monumental, more extravagant, more extreme”. He exaggerated the size of his subjects, sometimes for comical effect or for parody. One of the most famous examples is his version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa with a puffed-up face.

Botero said he found it impossible to depict dainty creatures. He could take a thin needle as his subject, he said, but on canvas or in bronze it would be transformed into an object 10 times the size, bulging at the sides.

Botero offered a modern take on the Stations of the Cross.

His daughter once asked him to draw an animal for a piece of homework. “Ok, I will do it,” he said in a 2008 BBC interview. “Then I started to be very careful, tried to be very careful, doing the horse and then suddenly it started to be Boteresque. And she said ‘no, no, Papa, no, no Papa, you are spoiling the whole thing’.”

“You see already my brain is completely deformed, I cannot do it. Anything I do is Boteresque.”

Critics often derided the exaggerated size of his subjects. “If I paint a woman, a man, a dog or a horse, I always do with this idea of the volume,” Botero told Spain’s El Mundo newspaper in 2014. “I don’t paint fat women,” he went on. “What I do paint are volumes.”

Some of his more sombre works show Colombian guerrilla fighters and earthquakes.

There were some controversies. He faced criticism for his painting of the death of the notorious drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar, who was gunned down by police in Medellín in 1993. Botero originally showed Escobar dodging bullets in an heroic show of defiance but later bowed to pressure and produced an image of the dead drug lord.

He also caused a stir with his huge portraits showing the US Army’s torture of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. They were exhibited at a venue close to President George W Bush’s White House in Washington.

Botero had studios in Paris, New York, Mexico, Colombia and Italy. Any of his works sells for over $2m, according to Sotheby’s auction house.
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Credit: BBC

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