At the age of twelve his uncle, a bull-fighting enthusiast,
enrolled him in a school for bullfighters, which he frequented
for two years. His favourite subjects in his first drawings are
all inspired by the world of bullfights. In fact his first known
work is a water colour of a bullfighter. In 1948 he exhibited
for the first time in his native town and started to work at the
leading newspaper of Medellin, “El Colombiano” making the
drawings for the Sunday supplements.
Later he moved to Bogotà, where he became acquainted with some
members of the Colombian cultural avant-garde, like the writer
Jorge Zalamea, a good friend of Garcia Lorca. During these years
he was greatly influenced by the work of artists of the Mexican
muralist school, such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Sigueiros
and Josè Clemente Orozco, and his large water paintings date to
this period, such as The Crying Woman (Donna che piange) (1949)
which shows in particular the influence of Orozco.
With his painting of 1952, “On the coast” (Sulla Costa) he was
voted second in the IX Exhibition of Colombian artists organised
by the Bogotà National Library. With the 7,000 pesos he received
he left for Europe. His first stop was Spain. In Madrid he
enrolled at the San Ferdinando Academy where he was able to work
in close contact with the masterpieces exhibited in the Prado.
His main cultural points of reference during this period were
Goya, Vélasquez, Titian and Tintoretto. He implemented his
earnings making copies of famous pictures of the Prado. After
remaining a year in Madrid he moved on to Paris, where he took a
small apartment on the Place des Vosges. He was sorely deluded
by the French avant-garde and spent most of his time in the
Louvre studying the old masters.
From 1953 to 1954 Botero stayed in Italy, frequenting the San
Marco Academy in Florence. He copied many of the works of Giotto
and Andrea del Castagno. By day he studied the techniques of the
”fresco” painters and in the evenings worked on oil paintings in
his studio in via Panicale, which had previously belonged to
Giovanni Fattori. His passion for the Italian Renaissance was
further stimulated by the lessons of Roberto Longhi. He
travelled a lot in Tuscany; he went to Arezzo to see the works
of Piero della Francesca, then went to Siena. He also visited
other Italian artistic centres including Venice and Ravenna.
In March 1955 he returned to Bogotà with his new works painted
during his stay in Italy and exhibited them two months later in
the rooms of the National Library. The exhibition received harsh
criticism, which at that time was very sensitive to the artistic
tendencies predominating in the Parisian galleries and
criticised very severely.
Botero married in 1955. At the beginning of 1956 the couple went
to Mexico City, where their first son, Fernando, was born.
During this period Botero discovered for the first time the
possibilities to expand and dilate the volume of forms in his
In 1957 he held his first personal exhibition in the United
States, in Washington. He visited the New York museums and
discovered abstract expressionism. In May he returned to Bogotà
and was voted second at the X Colombian Exhibition.
Nomination as Professor
In 1958 his daughter Lina was born. At the age of twenty-six
Botero received the nomination of Professor of Painting at the
Bogotà Art Academy and he held this office until 1960. By this
time he was becoming known as one of the most promising artists
of the country. He designed some of the illustrations for “La
siesta del Martes” by Garcia Marquez, which were also published
by “El Tiempo” the most important Colombian daily newspaper. He
then won the first place at the XI Colombian Exhibition with his
work “the bride’s chamber” (La Camera degli Sposi) in homage to
Mantegna, a free interpretation of the famous frescoes of the
Duke’s Palace in Mantua . He gained considerable success with
his personal exhibition organised in October of the same year at
the Gres Gallery in Washington: practically all his works were
sold on the same day as the inauguration.
In 1950 he presented “The triumph of Ramón Hoyos” (L’Apoteosi di
Ramón Hoyos”) at the Colombian Salon. His admiration for
Velàzquez was at its peak at this time: in fact, Botero designed
more than ten versions of the “Niño de Vallecas” where the
technique, characterised by incisive and monochromatic
paintbrush strokes, is influenced by abstract expressionism. He
was awarded a Guggenheim award and participated, together with
Enrique Grau, Alkejandro Obregon and Eduardo Ramirez Villamizare
at the V São Paulo Biennial Exhibition to represent his country.
In 1960, in Bogotà, his second son, Juan Carlos was born and
Botero was nominated as representative for Colombia at the II
Mexico Biennial Exhibition. This decision created violent
opposition, against which the artist and many of his friends
forcefully protested. For the third time, with very little
money, he left his country and went to live in New York, where
he leased a loft in Greenwich Village. The Gres Gallery, which
up to that time had helped and sustained him, closed down.
Botero and his wife divorced. In 1961 the Museum of Modern Art
in New York, upon the initiative of the administrator Dorothy C.
Miller purchased “Monna Lisa at the age of twelve” (Monna Lisa
all’età di dodici anni), but his first New York exhibition at
the Contemporaries Gallery was severely criticised.
In 1963 he moved to the East side. In 1964 he married Cecilia
Zambrano and a few months later received the second place award
of the young artists I Intercol Exhibition at the Museum of
Modern Art in Bogotà . He built a house on Long Island and
rented a new studio on the 14th Avenue in New York. In many of
Botero’s works of this period the plastic style begins to
emerge, characterised by subdued and delicate colours. He became
fascinated by the art of Rubens and made several paintings
inspired by the great Flemish master. January 1966 he held his
first important personal European exhibition in Baden-Baden,
Germany. Also the exhibition organised the same year at the
Milwaukee Art Center was successful and the “Time” magazine
published a very favourable report.
From 1967 to 1970 Botero travelled frequently between Colombia,
New York and Europe. He visited Italy and Germany where he
became fascinated by the art of Dürer. This gave birth to the “Dureroboteros”,
a series of big charcoal drawings, paraphrasing famous paintings
of the German artist. At the same time he was attracted by Manet
and Bonnard, and realised works in which he personally
interpreted the stylistic features of these modern artists.
March 1969 he exhibited at the Center for Inter-American
Relations in New York. In September his first personal
exhibition in Paris was held at the Gallerie Claude Bernard. In
1970 his third son, Pedro, was born in New York. In Germany in
March a travelling exhibition with over eighty works was shown
in five museums.
From 1971 to 1975 Botero rented an apartment on the boulevard de
Paris on the Ile de la Cité and divided his time between Paris,
Bogotà and his new studio in New York on the 5th Avenue.
February 1972 his first exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in
New York was held. He then bought a house in Cajica, north of
Bogotà where he always passes one month a year. In 1973, after
thirteen years, he left New York and moved to Paris. He then
started to make his first sculptures. In 1973 he arranged his
anthological exhibition in Bogotà, including works ranging from
1948 to 1972.
Tragic death of his son
His son Pedro, aged four, died in a road accident in Spain.
Botero himself remained injured. Following this tragedy many of
his works are dedicated to the memory and image of his son. In
1975 he and his wife Cecilia Zambrano separated.
After the important retrospective exhibition at the Museo de
Arte Contemporáneo (Modern Art Museum) in Caracas, he received
the “Andrés Bello” decoration from the President of Venezuela .
He exhibited again at the Galerie Bernard in Paris, but in these
years Botero dedicated most of his time to sculpture.
Twenty-five works were accomplished, with many different themes:
large torsos, animals and huge objects. In 1977 he received the
Croce di Boyacá from the the Antioquia Goverment for his
services to Colombia. The same year a room was dedicated to his
son Pedro in the Museum of Antioquia, where the sixteen works
donated by the artist are arranged. In October his sculptures
were shown for the first time in Paris. A year later he returned
to painting and moved his Paris studio to rue du Dragon, close
to the old Académie Julian. With his third wife Sophia Vari he
began to pass some months each year at Pietrasanta.
From 1979 to 1983 important retrospective travelling exhibitions
were arranged in several museums in Belgium, Norway, and Sweden.
In the United States his first American anthological exhibition
took place at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington.
In 1981 important exhibitions were also organised in Japanese
museums, in Tokyo and Osaka.
In 1983 the Metropolitan Museum purchased “Dance in Colombia” (Danza
in Colombia) and Botero illustrated the “Crónica de una muerte
anunciada” by Garcia Márquez for the first issue of “Vanity
Fair”. In the same year he moved to Pietrasanta in Tuscany,
famous for its marble quarries, and began to pass some moths a
year there working on his sculptures.
In 1984 he donated some of his sculptures to the Museo di
Antioquia in Medellin, where a room has been dedicated to him,
and another eighteen paintings to the Museo Nacional in Bogotà.
During this period his works are dedicated almost entirely to
the theme of bullfighting. In April 1985 twenty-five paintings
of various stages of the bull fight were shown for the first
time at the Marlborough Gallery in New York. In January 1986
exhibitions were held in Caracas, Brema and Frankfurt.
Other important exhibitions
1987: a big retrospective exhibition organised at the Arte Reina
Sofia Centre in Madrid was followed by a travelling thematic
exhibition entitled Bullfights. This was first shown at the
Castello Sforzesco in Milan, then in Naples, Palermo, Coro
(Venezuela) and Caracas.
1990: an important anthological exhibition at the Fondation
Gianadda in Martigny , and at the Marlborough Gallery in New
York, an exhibition of his most recent sculptures.
1991: exhibitions in Brusberg Galerie, Berlin, Forte di
Belvedere, Florence, Marlborough Gallery, Tokyo, and Kunsthaus
in Vienna; an important retrospective exhibition at the Palazzo
delle Esposizioni in Rome with works dating from 1949 to his
most recent works.
1992: his enormous sculptures on the Champs-Elysées, Paris and
the Bullfight series at the Grand Palais. The following year a
travelling exhibition exhibiting at Avignone, then the Pushkin
Museum in Moscow and the Ermitage in S. Petersburg.
1994: a big exhibition of the monumental sculptures in public
spaces in the leading European cities. In the same year an
exhibition of monumental sculptures in Chicago and Madrid, and
an anthological exhibition in Buenos Aires.
1995: a series of pastel drawings at the Galleria Didier Imbert,
1996: an exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery, New York of his
most recent oil paintings.
1997-1998: important exhibitions at the Museo Nazionale di belle
Arti in Santiago, Chile and the Modern Art Museum in Lugano, as
well as exhibitions at the Gabbiano Gallery in Rome, the Thomas
Gallery in Munich and the Mario Sequeira Gallery in Lisbon as
well as anthological exhibitions in museums in San Paolo, Rio de
Janeiro, Montevideo and Monterrey.
1999: An exhibition of his monumental sculptures in the Piazza
della Signoria and the Piazzale degli Uffizi in Florence and
paintings and smaller sculptures in the Armoury Room of Palazzo
For Botero painting is an interior need, but also a continual
experience toward that ideal picture that will never be reached.
The delicate colours, never exalted, never feverish, built up by
improvising and reactions, where there are no shadows because,
in his opinion, they would taint the idea of colour that he
wants to transmit.
To break the monotony of the tones different items used by him
appear and disappear : light bulbs, cigarette stubs, flies, all
this is indispensable and it is all continually changed while he
To fill the wide fields of colour, the artist dilates the forms,
and the people and the landscapes acquire unusual dimensions,
apparently unreal, where detail becomes the major expression and
large volumes remain undisturbed.
Since the artist remains detached from the condition of
humanity, Botero’s characters become prototypes without any
moral or psychological dimension, without a soul.
They feel no joy, nor pain, they look with a vacuous or squinted
gaze, they do not bat an eyelid, they look without seeing.
With this emotional detachment his painting acquires the dignity
and tranquillity of great classicism.
Botero believes that success depends on the fact that: ” It is
necessary to describe something that is strictly local, very
circumscribed , something with which everyone is very familiar
so as to be understood by everybody. I have convinced myself
that I must be parochial, in the sense of being profoundly,
religiously bound to my reality, in order to be universal”.