Fernando Botero, Artist Who Played With Human Form, Dies at 91

Fernando Botero, the painter and sculptor known for his disproportionate depictions of the human body and daily life in his native Colombia, has died. He was 91.

(Bloomberg) — Fernando Botero, the painter and sculptor known for his disproportionate depictions of the human body and daily life in his native Colombia, has died. He was 91. 

He died Friday at a hospital in Monaco, his daughter, Lina, said in an interview with Colombia’s W Radio. He had had Parkinson’s disease for the past few years but still painted for hours every day in his studio, she said. His health had deteriorated in recent days as he battled pneumonia.

President Gustavo Petro, in a post on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, announced Botero’s death and called him “the painter of our traditions and defects, the painter of our virtues. The painter of our violence and peace.”

One of the best-known Latin American artists, Botero carved out a reputation by almost comically exaggerating the volume of his subjects and infusing his paintings with the bright colors of his tropical homeland.

Though his portrayals of everyday life in Colombia were ostensibly sunny, he also evoked military dictators, torture scenes at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and the violence of the Colombian drug wars, including the 1993 shooting of cartel boss Pablo Escobar on a rooftop in Botero’s hometown of Medellin.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York described his signature style as “oversized, sometimes grotesque, figures and inflated still lifes that expand across the composition.”

Manhattan Meeting Spot

Two examples of his work were placed in the lobby of the Time Warner Center (later renamed Deutsche Bank Center) at Columbus Circle in New York: a 12-foot-tall bronze sculpture called Adam and, standing nearby, Eve. In 2010, the New York Times described the dark brown figures, with their genitals exposed, as “perhaps the most memorable Manhattan meeting spot since the clock in the Biltmore Hotel.”

Botero, who studied at a school for matadors, began his career selling depictions of bullfights for a few pesos outside the bullring in Medellin. He returned to the theme later in his career to create a collection of works glorifying the Spanish tradition.

Fernando Botero Angulo was born on April 19, 1932, to David Botero and Flora Angulo de Botero, in Medellin, a city in the Andes Mountains in northwestern Colombia.

His father, a salesman who traveled around the country on horseback, died when Botero was 4, according to The Baroque World of Fernando Botero, a 2007 book by John Sillevis, David Elliott and Edward J. Sullivan. His mother then struggled to feed the family.

In the 1950s, Botero studied fresco technique and art history in Florence, Italy, and was influenced by the likes of Francisco Goya and Pablo Picasso. He spent many years based in Paris, where he began sculpting. His emphasis of movement, color and sensuality drew comparisons to Baroque artists, including Peter Paul Rubens, who also explored heavy-set nudes.

‘Great Storyteller’

Botero “is a great storyteller, especially when inspired by scenes remembered from his native Colombia,” according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “Often depicting scenes of leisure activity, his satirical renderings may seem humorous at first, though they are often laden with social and political commentary.”

The winner of the Salon de Artistas Colombianos top prize in 1958, Botero donated $200 million worth of his works — which sell for millions of dollars in the art market — to national museums in Medellin and Bogota.

Botero said an artist is intuitively attracted to certain forms without knowing why.

“I don’t paint fat people. They are a product of my obsession with volume, which is different,” Botero said in an interview published in March 2012 by the Bogota-based weekly magazine Semana.

Botero had four children, one of whom predeceased him. His third wife, Sophia Vari, a Greek artist, died in May.

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