Fernando Botero is one of the most widely recognized and highly sought-after artists today. Originally from Colombia, he has lived in several cities across three continents for most of his life, becoming a citizen of the world. Formally trained at the Academia de San Fernando and at the Prado Museum in Madrid, there is an emphasis on theformal elements of composition and color in his work.
It has also been said that the pictorial language of Botero evokes the musical language of Mozart. This is especially evident in his paintings of musicians. It is a subject that, along with gay scenes of couples dancing, the artist returned to often. Indeed, these pictures, full of life and movement, provide an ideal opportunity for Botero to create dynamic compositions in which his characters play, dance, and sing, usually within a defined environment that gives context and frames their activity.
Paintings and drawings of guitar players, flutists, violinists, singers are scattered throughout the artist’s oeuvre. One also finds still lives of musical instruments: a guitar placed on a table, with the musical sheet peeking below; or a cello in a corner, waiting to be played. In these paintings the instrument becomes the primary subject for the artist. Botero recognizes that the beauty of music is due as much to the instrument as it is to the musician. In fact, as the artist himself has said, “If I went to a remote place, in a short time I would get used to the silence and, most probably, would stop painting.”1
The Musicians, painted in 1979, depicts four men playing the bass, tuba, flute, and guitar, along with a little red-headed girl who also plays a guitar. One particularly charming detail are the girl’s red shoes that peek out from underneath her dress. They’ve been just polished to shine perfectly. Fruits are strewn across the floor and a single light-bulb hangs in the background providing a warm glow. In this work the instruments are as much a subject of the painting as are the musicians themselves. The artist has dedicated equal space, ensuring that proper homage is rendered to both.
A classical triangular composition is repeated firstly in the young girl’s pink dress. This is echoed in the diagonal lines of the bass on the left and the guitar on the right. In the corner there is a slightly open door which serves to balance the composition, but also indicate that there is another world outside the painting. Might the musicians be playing inside a party room? Are we the guests for whom they play?
Like Mozart’s concertos, The Musicians is a melodic work. Portrayed in harmoniously subtle shades of blues, grays, and pinks it is delicately ironic as the musicians play seriously without breaking into dance. It is a wonderful example of Botero’s skill, well-balanced in its distribution of space where the melodies flow and we are invited to listen.
1. Germán Arciniegas, Fernando Botero, New York, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1977, p. 52.
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