Lot 14
  • 14

Fernando Botero (b. 1932)

1,200,000 - 1,800,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Fernando Botero
  • The Bashful Family 
  • signed and dated 68 lower right; also signed, titled and dated 68 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas


Acquired from the artist
Thence by descent
Sale: Sotheby's, New York, Latin American Art, November 25, 1986, lot 42, illustrated in color
Private Collection, Los Angeles

Catalogue Note

In the mid-sixties, Latin America's artistic production and the favor of the public was split: while the geometric, conceptual and concrete artists were establishing themselves as a mostly Parisian-inspired alternative to traditional figuration and lyrical abstraction, the artistic scene was definitely taken by surprise with the appearance of Fernando Botero´s realist, larger than size characters.

Mostly inspired in classical compositions revisited by the artist, the art of Botero came to visually complement the new wave of Latin American literature led by Gabriel García-Márquez. Botero´s perhaps most distinguished series, [the families, started in 1964 with The Pinzón Family], finds echoes in García Marquez´s famous Hundred years of solitude (published in 1967), in which generations of families stories extended forever, creating a sense of an eternal, unchangeable fate. One is born poor, rich, a military, a politico and so it was. Things never changed.

Among many other things, Botero has ironically depicted the role of men, women, clergy, and political actors in his native Colombia; its ideal territory  could be extended to the whole continent south of the Rio Grande. He has painted street scenes, historic and brothel scenes; his fundamental inspiration is to be found in classical painters as in the everyday life he grew up in. All along the way, like a visual chronicler of today’s state of human affairs, he has made countless tender and sarcastic notes about the roles of each character showing in his entire oeuvre, a sort of monumental theater of social life by itself.

In a 1966 large painting called Rich Children, Botero painted four children of different ages strolling in the park. The children and their nanny (or is it their mother?) show monumental, solid bodies, they are well dressed and occupy the first plane of the painting. Their round faces, the boy’s toy and the baby carriage wheels animate the composition. The five figures look to the sides, absent minded. Only the little girl in the back reaches out to the adult.

A year later, Botero painted Family Scene. It shows a well-off family, also painted in an exterior. A little girl is gently resting on the lap of her mother while the child on the right holds the leash of a gigantic dog; in his right hand, a baton, a symbol of power. Only the boy and the dog look straight into the eyes of the viewer. Soon thereafter, Botero painted A Family of 1968, sold in these rooms in 1982. It is also a rich family: the man is smoking, a big dog leaks his hand while the other reposes on the seated woman's shoulder. The man looks straight to the viewer as does the child on the horse. The mother, placed in the middle, seems happy to exist as a decorative figure. These rich family portraits remind us of their English and Dutch predecessors and most certainly of Goya's 18th century portraiture.

In contrast to these scenes of wealthy families, Presidents and First ladies, of the portraits of his dealers, Mr. and Mrs Jean Aberbach, and of his friends Remedios and Thomas Messer, the former Director of the Guggenheim Museum (also painted in 1968), A Bashful family, also named Los Pobres - The Poor - on the reverse of the painting, tell us another story.

The scene represents a family in the interior of a kitchen. This composition frankly contrasts with the Rich Children and other early families, mostly painted en plein air . The stove occupies the back of the room; it is flanked by two piles of coal. On the stove, under a bare light bulb -reminiscent of his famous charcoal on canvas, Homage to Caravaggio, also from 1968-are several grey pots and pans. On the floor we see a seated child, some objects, a rat and a fat, happy cat. Behind the cat, an angel like figure, named Tomasito in another “stove” painting (1969). If the stove is hot, as we presume it is by the smoking pot on the right, Tomasito is about to get burned…or he is some kind of celestial protective creature insensitive to temperature? While the cat is the only figure staring at the viewer, all the other characters in the painting are looking away from us. 

The central figure of the composition is the mother holding a new born baby. She is dressed in a plain green dress with a clean pink apron. Her left hand, with a gold ring, holds a bottle while the child eagerly awaits to be fed. At her feet, a young boy reaches out to his mother. This scene has perhaps another character. It is not difficult to imagine here an autobiographic reference to the artist's childhood. In effect, Botero's father, a salesman who traveled on horseback near his native city of Medellín, died suddenly when the future artist was just four years old. For composition purposes, he might have replaced his older brother by the figure of the girl. In this beautiful painting, life is carried with dignity. Nothing in the painting indicates malnutrition or dirt except perhaps the rat which might also be part of the artist license to play with the idea that the cat is actually there for a reason.

Finally, it would not be inconceivable that Botero was inspired by Peter Paul Rubens' The Holy Family with Saints Francis and Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist from the early 1630s. Botero painted Madame Rubens in 1964 and the Rubens Family in 1965.

Botero shows decorum, tenderness and throws a warm look upon this working class family. We do not know where the father figure is (traveling, absent or else) or if it is even relevant for discussion. Nonetheless, these fatherless early paintings radiate a sense of security brought forth by the central figure of the mother which in traditional Latin American society, remains pivotal in family life.