By the mid-1960s, Fernando Botero’s unique aesthetic vision had already fully materialized. Forging an oeuvre informed by art historical influences ranging from the great Italian and Spanish Old Masters to the French Impressionists, Botero had achieved a uniquely personal solution to contemporary figurative painting: one that embodied both whimsy and socially-critique. It thus became apparent early-on that Botero would resist complying with the prevailing aesthetic currents of American Abstract Expressionism and European Post-War avant-garde—both arguably more acceptable paths for an ambitious young artist seeking recognition.
Botero’s narrative scenes of everyday, comical hyperbole are populated by his immediately identifiable voluminous characters. Moreover, his paintings maintain a pivotal element of didacticism, as he said: “[they] function within free, imaginative, innovative parameters […] it is not a matter of creating the kind of beauty that fits into the classical canons. The purpose, rather, is to reach a stage at which it has become possible to surprise and be surprised.” (Carlos Fuentes, Botero: Women
, New York, 2003, n.p.) His singular artistic production garnered him international critical acclaim by this time as well. In 1958 Botero received the Guggenheim International award, he participated in both the XXIX Venice Biennale and in the V Bienal of São Paulo in 1958 and 1959 respectively, and in 1961 the Museum of Modern Art, New York acquired his famed painting Mona Lisa, Age 12
—the only figurative painting acquired by MoMA that year.
Over the course of the first-half of the 1960s, Botero continually moved between Europe, Colombia and New York. In 1967, he became profoundly “interested in Éduoard Manet and paint[ed] a number of pictures after the latter’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe (Lunch on the Grass).”
(Werner Spies, Botero, Fernando Botero, Paintings and Drawings
, Munich, 1992, p. 30) Painted during this important year, El Bosque
presents us with an enchanted, bucolic scene. Referential of Manet’s elegant depictions of leisurely afternoon gatherings in the Tuileries Gardens of Paris, Fernando Botero evokes a scene of playful recreation: outfitted in a ballerina costume, a young girl dances along with her kite in a small, cleared playground resembling a circular theatre. Botero’s uses of rhythmic tones of dark greens and browns in the surrounding trees creates the sensation of movement and light around the gracefully, leaping girl.
Acquired from the Walter Engel Gallery in Toronto, El Bosque has since held in the same private collection for fourty-five years. Austrian-born Walter Engel played a critical role in promoting Latin American Art throughout Canada. Fleeing to Colombia in 1938 after the Anschluss (the Nazi annexation of Austria), Engel became a central figure in the cultural milieu of his new country of residence. As a member of the International Association of Art Critics (IAAC), he contributed regularly to the major national newspapers and artistic journals of the time. While living in Bogotá, he became friends with Fernando Botero. In 1965, he moved to Toronto, Canada where he founded his famed Walter Engel Gallery from where he would work endlessly, until his retirements at the age of 82, to promote art from Latin America.