Renowned painter and sculptor, the Colombian Fernando Botero died at the age of 91, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced this Friday, September 15, in a publication on the social network X (formerly Twitter).

“Fernando Botero, the painter of our traditions and our faults, the painter of our virtues, is dead,” President Petro wrote on the X network. “The painter of our violence and our peace. Of the dove rejected a thousand times and placed a thousand times on its throne,” added Petro, in reference to one of the artist’s emblematic animals.

Fernando Botero, born in 1932 in Medellin, central Colombia, is considered one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Characters with round and generous shapes had become the artist’s trademark. No further details on the circumstances of his death were given. According to the Colombian press, which this Friday morning hailed in unison “the greatest Colombian artist of all time”, the master had seen his state of health worsen in recent days, notably suffering from pneumonia.

“I often think about death and it saddens me to leave this world and no longer be able to work because I take a lot of pleasure in my work,” the maestro told AFP during an interview at occasion of his 80th birthday in 2012.

Son of a sales representative, Fernando Botero was introduced to art very early. At the age of 15, he was already selling his bullfighting drawings at the gates of the Bogota bullring. “When I started, it was an exotic profession in Colombia, which was not well regarded and offered no future. When I told my family that I was going to dedicate myself to painting, they replied: ‘Okay, but we can’t help you,'” said the most highly rated Colombian artist in the world. .

After a first individual exhibition in Bogota in the 1950s, he left for Europe, staying in Spain, France and Italy where he discovered classical art. His work is also influenced by pre-Columbian art and the frescoes of Mexico, where he later settled. His career took off in the 1970s when he met the director of the German Museum in New York, Dietrich Malov, with whom he organized several successful exhibitions. “Totally unknown, without even a contract with a New York gallery, I then began to be contacted by the biggest art dealers in the world,” he said.

The extraordinary dimensions of his art, which would become his trademark, were revealed in 1957 in the painting Still Life with Mandolin. He then painted the central soundhole (opening) of the mandolin too small, in comparison with the size of the instrument. Thus, he explained, “between the small detail and the generosity of the exterior layout, a new dimension appears, more volumetric, more monumental, more extravagant”.

For the artist, the term “fat” did not suit his characters. A lover of the Italian Renaissance, he called himself a “defender of volume” in modern art. His sculpture, also marked by gigantism, occupied a very important place in his career, developed mainly in Pietrasanta, in Italy. For years he shared his life between this corner of Tuscany, New York, Medellin and Monaco, where he continued to create.

The artist, who said he never knew what he was going to paint the next day, was inspired by the beauty, but also by the torments of his country, marked by an armed conflict of more than half a century.

In 1995, a bomb placed at the foot of his sculpture The Bird killed 27 people in Medellin. Five years later, he donated a replica called The Bird of Peace. His work depicts guerrillas, earthquakes, brothels. He also painted a series on the prisoners of the American penitentiary at Abu Ghraib, in Iraq.

The artist has also been a major patron, with donations estimated at more than $200 million. He donated many of his works to the museums of Medellin and Bogota, and dozens of paintings from his private collection, including Picasso, Monet, Renoir, Miro…

His works can also be seen outdoors in many cities around the world, with the artist believing that exhibitions in public spaces are a “revolutionary rapprochement” of art with the public. An idea that he launched in 1992 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, then near the Grand Canal in Venice and in front of the pyramids of Egypt. His statues also traveled to China in 2015.

Married three times, most recently to Greek sculptor Sophia Vari, Botero suffered the death of one of his children, aged 4, in a car accident.