Fernando Botero quit matador training as a youth to pursue a career as an artist, exhibiting his work for the first time as a teenager in 1948. His later work, which is now being shown in major cities across the world, focuses on situational portraiture, which is linked by the proportional exaggeration of his figures. Botero’s bronze statues can be found in the parks of numerous European and Latin American capital towns around the world. The painter and sculptor passed away on September 15, 2023, at the age of 91.
Fernando Botero Angulo was born on April 19, 1932, in Medelln, Colombia, and spent several years at a matador school before leaving the bull ring to pursue an artistic career. Botero’s paintings were first seen in 1948, when he was 16 years old, and he had his first one-man show in Bogota three years later.
Botero’s early work was influenced by pre-Colombian and Spanish colonial art, as well as Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s political paintings. His creative idols at the period, Francisco de Goya and Diego Velázquez, were also influential. By the early 1950s, Botero had started studying painting in Madrid, where he made a career by copying paintings from the Prado and selling the reproductions to visitors.
Paintings and Sculptures
Botero experimented with proportion and size during the 1950s, and after moving to New York City in 1960, he began establishing his signature style—round, bloated humans and animals. His figures, especially those in Presidential Family (1967), have exaggerated dimensions that suggest political satire and are rendered in flat, bright color with sharply delineated forms—a homage to Latin-American folk art. While his works include still lifes and landscapes, Botero is best known for his iconic situational portraiture.
Botero relocated to Paris in 1973, after his art had reached an international audience, and began creating sculptures. These pieces expanded on his core ideas, as he returned to his bloated subjects. As his work progressed, public shows of massive bronze figures were performed around the world to great popularity by the 1990s.
Botero shifted his focus to the explicitly political in 2004, displaying a series of drawings and paintings about the carnage in Colombia caused by drug cartel activity. He debuted his “Abu Ghraib” series in 2005, which was inspired by stories of American military troops torturing captives at the Abu Ghraib jail during the Iraq War. The series took him more than 14 months to produce and drew a lot of attention when it was initially shown in Europe.
Botero published Circus: Paintings and Works on Paper in 2013, which featured 137 paintings, 31 drawings, and 22 watercolors from 2007 to 2008. Botero was inspired by his childhood vacations to the circus in Colombia. “Everything appeared to be enormous. There were several incredibly large dogs… they looked like massive bears. According to Reuters, he stated, “The circus leaves a sweet memory.”
Botero’s work is still on display in museums around the world.
Botero has three marriages. In 1978, he married his most recent wife, the Greek artist Sophia Vari. She passed away on May 2023.
From his first marriage to Gloria Zea, he had three children: boys Fernando and Juan Carlos, as well as a girl named Lina. Botero and his second wife, Cecilia Zambrano, had a son named Pedro. Pedro died in an automobile accident when he was four years old in 1974. Botero, who was driving the truck, lost two fingers and partial movement in his right arm in the crash. He considers his late son’s portrait to be his best work. “I still had the bandages on when I painted it,” he said.
Botero died on September 15, 2023, following pneumonia complications. At the time, the 91-year-old was in Monaco, where he owned a property.
Lina Botero, Botero’s daughter, stated that despite the artist’s recent inability to stand and use larger brushes, he continued to work regularly in his Monaco studio. “He couldn’t work on oil paintings. But he was experimenting with water paintings,” she said.