Renowned Colombian Artist Fernando Botero Passes Away at 91

Charting the evolution of a Colombian art legend

by Nouman Rasool
Renowned Colombian Artist Fernando Botero Passes Away at 91
© Sean Gallup/GettyImages

Colombian maestro Fernando Botero, universally acclaimed for his distinctive, voluminous depictions in both sculpture and painting, has passed away at the mature age of 91. Botero's singular style—highlighting exaggerated, corpulent figures—catapulted him to international recognition.

Beyond his penchant for the robust, he did not shy from merging his unique artistic language with political commentary and deep-rooted social subjects. Paying homage, Colombian President Gustavo Petro praised Botero as “the masterful painter of our collective virtues and flaws, capturing our traditions with unparalleled finesse”.

The loss is deeply felt in Botero’s native Medellín, which has announced a week-long mourning in honor of arguably the nation's greatest artist.

Botero's Formative Artistic Odyssey

The illustrious artist's journey began in 1932, the offspring of a wandering salesman.

In his youthful 20s, Europe beckoned, introducing him to the grandeur of classical art. This European sojourn would ultimately pave his path to the United States in 1960. The late 1950s marked a transformative phase for Botero.

He stated, “I unearthed a dimension characterized by grandiosity, monumentality, and extravagance”. His artistic choices, whether to induce humor or satire, often supersized subjects. A prime example is his rendition of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, which showcases the iconic face in an exaggerated fullness.

Despite some jesting critiques of his style, Botero remained staunch in his vision. He once candidly remarked, “I don't depict fat women. I portray volumes”. However, his oeuvre wasn't devoid of controversy. Botero faced backlash over his portrayal of Pablo Escobar’s demise, initially depicting the infamous drug lord dodging bullets.

Subsequent public sentiment led him to re-envision the piece, showing Escobar post-fatal encounter. Another significant stir was caused by his colossal paintings spotlighting the torture at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, poignantly displayed near President George W.

Bush’s White House. An artist of global repute, Botero's studios dotted various international locales, from Paris and New York to Mexico, Colombia, and Italy. His artwork’s legacy is further underlined by its market value, with pieces often fetching upwards of $2 million at Sotheby’s auction house.

In Botero's passing, the world loses an artist whose every brushstroke and chisel mark bore an unmistakable signature, forever enshrined in the annals of art history.