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Fernando Botero: 1932—: Artist

Trained As Bullfighter

Botero was born in Medellín, Colombia in 1932, where his mother worked as a seam-stress to support the family after his father, a traveling salesperson, died when Botero was four. At the age of twelve he enrolled in an apprentice matador school for two years, but eventually pursued an education at a Jesuit-run academy that offered him a scholarship. He began painting at an early age, and the Colombian pastime of la corrida, or the bullfight, was a favorite subject matter. Botero made his first sale when he convinced a local merchant who sold tickets to the Medellín bullfights to display one of his works in the shop window. It sold for about $2. "He gave me the money, I put it in my pocket and ran home to tell my brothers," he told Los Angeles Times journalist Juanita Darling. "I lost the money, and they didn't believe me."

The conflict between his art leanings and his formal Roman Catholic education presented problems for Botero as a teen. He was reprimanded by his teachers for drawing nudes, and wrote an article for the school paper defending Pablo Picasso's art that led to his expulsion. He finished at another liceo in 1951, and moved to Colombia's capital city, Bogotá. Its Galerias de Arte Foto-Estudio Leo Matiz was the first to show Botero's paintings that same year. After winning a 1952 competition, he earned enough money to allow him to travel and study in Europe. He settled in Madrid for a time to study at the Academia in San Ferdinando, earning his living by selling copies of Spanish masters Velásquez and Goya on the street. Long fascinated by the work of Mexican muralists like Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Botero then moved on to Florence, Italy, to learn fresco techniques at the Academy of Fine Arts. In both instances, Botero received little attention from his teachers. "Nobody ever told me: 'Art is this,'" he later said in an interview with Americas writer Ana Maria Escallon. "This was good luck in a way because I would have had to spend half of my life forgetting everything that I had been told, which is what happens with most students in schools of fine arts."

At a Glance . . .

Born Fernando Botero Angulo, April 19, 1932, in Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia; son of David (a salesperson) and Flora Angulo (a seamstress) de Botero; married Gloria Zea, 1955 (divorced, 1960); married Cedilia Zambrano, 1964 (divorced, 1975); children: (with Zea) Fernando, Lina, Juan Carlos. Education: Liceo de la Universidad de Antioquia, baccalaureate, 1950; studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, San Ferdinando, Spain, 1952, and at the Accademia San Marco and the Universitá degli Studi, Florence, 1953.

Career: Illustrator for Sunday literary supplement of El Colombiano, Medellín, 1948-51; painter, 1950–; first exhibition of paintings hosted by Galerias de Arte Foto-Estudio Leo Matiz, Bogotá, 1951; first exhibition outside of Colombia at Galeria Antonio Souza, Mexico City, 1957, and first in United States at Pan American Union, Washington, D.C., 1957; taught at Escuela de Bellas Artes in Bogotá, 1958; included in 1965's "The Emergent Decade: Latin American Painting," at the Guggenheim Museum of New York (toured the United States and Canada, 1965-67); first exhibition in Europe at Staatliche Kunsthalle, Baden-Baden, West Germany, 1966.

Awards: First Prize for Painting, Salon Anual de Artistas Colombianos, Bogotá, 1958; Colombian Section Award, Guggenheim International Award Exhibition, New York, 1960; Andrés Bello Award, President of Venezuela, 1975; Cruz de Boyacá for service to Colombia, Government of Antioquia, 1977.

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Shennen Bersani (1961-) Biography - Personal to Mark Burgess Biography - PersonalFernando Botero: 1932—: Artist Biography - Trained As Bullfighter, Developed Signature Style, Botero And The Medellín Cartel, Donated Paintings To Colombia