Colombia Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero | Colombia

Fernando Botero | Colombia

“…The most terrible thing about the idea of death for an artist is knowing that they won’t be able to paint anymore. I want to die like Picasso, who, at 93, after painting a painting – as bad as the ones he made towards the end – went to brush his teeth at two in the morning and dropped dead. Painters never retire,” Fernando Botero, interview with Revista Diners 2006.

Fernando Botero

Fernando Botero, the Colombian painter and sculptor, was born in Medellín, Colombia, in 1932. After graduating from the Liceo of the University of Antioquia in his hometown in 1950, he embarked on a journey to Spain to study the works of renowned Spanish painters, particularly Goya and Velázquez.

His early artistic endeavors, encompassing portraits, landscapes, and everyday scenes, were distinguished by their loose brushstrokes.

By the early 1960s, Botero had established himself in New York, where his paintings garnered significant acclaim in the American art market.

During his European travels, notably to Paris, Botero ventured into sculpture, echoing the distinctive characteristics of his paintings.

His style, marked by its full figurative representation, exudes a certain naiveté in its plasticity, portraying people and animals as markedly voluminous figures.

By the 1980s, Fernando Botero had risen to become one of the most sought-after contemporary artists globally. Several of his sculptures, crafted from materials such as bronze, marble, and cast resin, became integral features of urban landscapes across various cities.

Botero’s Passing and Legacy

Renowned artist Fernando Botero passed away on September 15, 2023. To truly appreciate his artistry, one must explore its origins. Botero described his style as “picturesque and rustic,” but critics now recognize it as “Boterismo,” characterized by his distinctive approach to capturing art. His paintings and sculptures feature voluminous forms and curves, blending large-format volumes influenced by various events.

I – His Beginnings

During the early stages of his career, Botero drew inspiration from colonial and folk art, Mexican muralism, and abstract expressionism. This period, though lesser-known, was pivotal as he sought to define his unique style. Transitioning from a young illustrator to a globally renowned artist, he gained acclaim with his work “Coco” in 1951.

“Coco,” painted in 1951, is an oil on canvas masterpiece by renowned Colombian artist Fernando Botero, measures 129.5 x 109.2 centimeters. This piece is part of a private collection and is currently housed at the National Museum of Colombia.

Captured in the image below by photographer Hernán Díaz, it exemplifies Botero’s early works from 1948 to 1963.


“Coco,” 1951. Private Collection National Museum of Colombia. Source: The Young Master Botero Early Work 1948 -1963 page: 64. Photograph by Hernán Díaz. Accessed on February 15, 2024.



In 1952, Botero achieved recognition by winning the second prize at the IX Colombian Artists Salon held at the National Library of Bogotá with his painting “Frente al Mar.” This canvas is a dynamic composition that breaks the block’s mass asymmetrically, with openings suggesting strength and mass, while emphasizing figures in the foreground.



Works of Fernando Botero: “Frente al Mar,”1952, Oil on Canvas 129.5 X 109.2 Private Collection National Museum of Colombia, Source: The Young Master Botero Early Work 1948 -1963 page: 64. Photograph by Hernán Díaz. Accessed on February 15, 2024.



II. Pre-Columbian Influence

Understanding Botero’s origins requires recognizing his deep connection with pre-Columbian cultures. When examining the scenic elements in his paintings alongside the hieratic nature of his figures and the voluminous forms inspired by ceramics, totems, stone, and clay statues, as well as golden masks housed in the Gold Museum of Bogotá, common patterns emerge: Intricate mouths, fixed slanted eyes, and prominent cheekbones.



Archaeological Museum of Galapas, Colombia. Source: Museo Galapa. Accessed: February 15, 2024



These details reflect pre-Columbian characteristics, with forms leaning towards rounded shapes rather than excessive fleshiness. Colombia’s pre-Columbian past has left a significant imprint, influencing subsequent art in various ways.



Archaeological Museum of Galapas, Colombia. Source: Museo Galapa. Accessed: February 15, 2024.



Botero’s art diverges greatly from European traditions, even during his time in Europe. While Latin American art has long admired European schools, Botero’s work stands out as original.

His style, characterized by vibrant colors, pastel trees, ocher lands, and colonial red tiles, holds immense value, particularly in a Colombian context.

This art differs greatly from European art, even from the time when Botero lived in Europe. It is also true that the art, which we have admired in Latin America for centuries, comes from European schools that have been inspiration and source for many.

At the time Botero was starting in painting (1945), the drawings he had were not of good chromatic quality as we appreciate them today. If we understand this, we will be able to grasp the essence and key of Botero’s painting.



Works by Fernando Botero: National Museum of Colombia. Source: The Young Master Botero Early Work 1948-1963 pages: 93-94-95. Photography by Hernán Díaz. Accessed: February 14, 2024.



Botero’s form and manner of painting are far from traditional European art, that is, from traditional schools; his references stem from here, for many art critics also consider it as “naíf” art, which often communicates very locally rooted customs.



Obras de Fernando Botero: Museo Nacional de Colombia. Fuente: El jóven Maestro Botero Obra temprana 1948 -1963 Página: 123. Photograph by Hernán Díaz. Accessed on February 15, 2024.



This can be understood by considering that Colombia has many class differences and what is understood as elevated art is to imitate European art, but then Botero appears and applies that style or character, those colors, those pastel-colored trees, those ocher-colored lands, those colonial red tiles; all of this gives it very significant value because suddenly it is being original.

If someone appreciates it from a European perspective, they may not understand it. But for someone living in Latin America and especially in Colombia, they realize that Botero’s painting is completely different because he is not copying the avant-gardes.



Fernando Botero: The Patio 1999. Oil on canvas. Location: Fernando Botero Room. Accessed: February 13, 2024



Botero openly admired Diego Rivera (Mexico) for his ability to embrace contemporary art without forsaking his cultural heritage. This admiration likely contributed to Botero’s exaggerated voluminous style, which offers multiple interpretations.

He reflects: “One day, while drawing a generously shaped mandolin, I accidentally made the hole too small, causing the mandolin to take on fantastic proportions. My talent lies in recognizing these moments of transformation.”

An artist’s true talent lies not just in technical prowess but in perceiving what others overlook. Botero’s art captures a vibrant chromatic range that reflects Colombia’s rich cultural tapestry. Rather than moralizing, Botero’s works address socio-political events, conveying universal humanity without resorting to strict realism.



Fernando Botero: Still Life and Mandolin, 1956. Oil on canvas – Llorente Foundation – Bogotá. Source: Accessed: February 15, 2024



Understanding this is crucial to grasping Botero’s artistry. Once one comprehends this, it becomes clear how the master artist utilizes a vibrant chromatic spectrum within Colombia’s rich cultural tapestry.



Works by Fernando Botero: National Museum of Colombia. Source: The Young Master Botero Early Work 1948-1963 Pages: 50-51. Photography by Hernán Díaz. Accessed: February 14, 2024.



Botero brings forth his work, considering that it is not a sort of Latin cubism, and he makes this very clear. He portrays the most tragic socio-political events that shape the course of Colombian history, through universal humanity instead of resorting to moralistic figurative works of the realist style.


III. Sculpture

Botero’s manipulation of space is extensive in his sculptural works. While some may find his compositions overwhelming, his use of color theory can occasionally appear somewhat overloaded.

Yet, within these large-format canvases, Botero skillfully fills the void with what is often described as “compositional horror” – a deliberate avoidance of empty spaces. Here, there are few depictions of slender figures; instead, Botero presents us with a captivating interplay of composition and volume.


Credits: Rojas Ramírez, Alejandro. Sculpture Square. Botero Square, Medellín, Colombia. February 2023.


Today, Botero’s sculptures grace numerous public squares worldwide, with large-scale representations of Fernando Botero easily recognizable in both America and Europe.

What’s most remarkable is that whether one is an art critic or not, the master artist’s work is immediately identifiable.

To grasp the intricacies of Master Fernando Botero’s sculptural work, one must journey to Pietrasanta, a city nestled on the northern coast of Tuscany, Italy, within the province of Lucca.

Here, in the workshops, Botero meticulously crafts his sculptures from clay, which are then transformed into plaster before being meticulously polished using files and small chisels until the desired form is achieved.

The subsequent phase is a complex and lengthy process, involving the transfer of the sculpture to skilled founders who create a mold of the piece.

Only after multiple stages of painstaking labor does the sculpture take its final form in bronze. As the material cools and contracts, the raw bronze emerges, requiring further refinement.

Utilizing specialized tools such as sanders and polishers, the surface is meticulously cleaned until it attains a flawless smoothness.

Throughout this process, the master works tirelessly, dedicating each summer day to intense labor until the product is ready to adorn the squares of cities across the globe.

IV. Bullfighting

In his early years, bullfighting was a profound passion for Botero, an activity untouched by controversy due to its context. His biographers recount how, at the tender age of 10, his uncle introduced him to the bullring, likely at the Macarena bullring in Medellín.

This experience undoubtedly left an indelible mark on him, mesmerizing him with the spectacle, grandeur, and bustling crowds that convened in the plaza, embracing the ritual in the face of mortality.



Fernando Botero: “Tauromaquia.” Source: El Debate. Accessed February 16, 2024.


Today, bullfighting faces intense scrutiny. Yet, Botero ardently embraced and defended it, boldly declaring in an interview:

“Bulls will always exist. While they may be banned in certain locales, they will endure through the ages as an integral part of universal culture.”

V. Violence

To grasp the portrayal of violence in Botero’s art, nearly elevated to a national symbol, one must recognize its deep-seated presence in Colombian society.

Tragic and contentious, violence has plagued the country since 1946, permeating every facet: political, social, economic, and even religious.

Violence is deeply interwoven into Colombian culture, evident in literature and art, shaping the nation’s identity amidst its natural beauty.



Fernando Botero. “Images of Violence.” Source: El Tiempo. Accessed, February 16, 2024.



Similarly, Botero’s art reflects local customs: the vibrant colors of an open papaya, the fragrant aroma of guava, the sight of a halved lemon, banana leaves encasing tamales, the humidity, and mountain fog mingling with azure skies.



Credits: Rojas Gamarra Walter, “Guerrilla de Eliseo Velásquez” 1988. Fernando Botero. Botero Museum, Bogotá, Colombia, February 16, 2023.



His work captures the multitude of green hues adorning the earth, the ochre streets, the dignified presence of a man in women’s clothing akin to a Renaissance Madonna, and the depiction of voluminous bodies exuding grace reminiscent of Venus.



Fernando Botero “Travesti” (1983). Image Source: Accessed, February 16, 2024.



Through Botero’s lens, we encounter a distinct vision of beauty and aesthetics, diverging from conventional norms. His interpretation of aesthetics and beauty, painstakingly explored, offers a unique perspective, challenging conventional notions of art.



Credits: Rojas Ramírez Fernanda, “The Nude Maja” 1988. Fernando Botero. Botero Museum, Bogotá, Colombia. 2023.


“He died as he wanted and as he always said, with a brush in his hand, doing what he loved most, painting, doing what he did best throughout his life,” Lina Botero (Daughter of Fernando Botero).



Walter Rojas Gamarra | Board Member, Latina Republic

Peruvian by birth, he has lived in Colombia, and resides in Santiago de Chile. Rojas Gamarra is a renowned painter of colonial baroque art. He has exhibited his paintings in various countries in Europe, and the Americas and has conducted baroque painting workshops in Mexico City. Rojas Gamarra completed a Masters Thesis in Peruvian Art at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Lima, Peru. He has a Masters in Art and Humanities from the Gabriela Mistral University in Chile and a Masters in Church History, Latin America from the European University of Rome.