Fernando Botero, Jr. on Collecting His Father’s Work
Fernando Botero, installation view of Matador, 1992. Photo by Paloma Villamil. Courtesy of Botero in China.
Portrait of Fernando Botero Jr. with Fernando Botero, The Square, 2013. Photo by Paloma Villamil. Courtesy of Botero in China.
No one can mistake a Botero. His renown lies within the voluptuous curves of his figures, depicted in paintings and bronze sculptures that grace museums, galleries, and collections around the world. Zealots and market experts alike tout Botero’s singular style as the genesis of his fame, and getting to know the inner world of this iconic artist explains much about his visionary perspective.
“He was insistent on going to a museum once per week to see a great painting,” explained Fernando Botero Jr., the artist’s son and an avid collector, both of Botero works and other modern masters. “He would always take us to see one painting in particular, and would ask, ‘Why do you think this painting is great?’ And we would stand there for a half hour and explain why it was great. [That really helped us] develop an eye for great art and great artistic expression.”
Botero Jr. is the elder Botero’s oldest son, a former stockbroker turned politician whose love for contemporary art was cemented early on in his childhood. “I started collecting when I was a teenager, living in Paris with my father and sister,” Botero Jr. said over a video call. These days, Botero Jr. is laser-focused on expanding his father’s renown into Asia, with exhibitions in China and other projects across the continent further cementing Botero’s global legacy. Aside from building up his father’s reputation, Botero Jr. is an avid collector of modern and contemporary art. With roughly 100 works in his collection—about a third of which are works by his father—Botero Jr. has developed a specific approach.
Much of that early education dissecting one great painting at a time shaped the way he built his collection. “My father always said it was better to have a great lithograph than a bad painting,” Botero Jr. said. “Quality should always come before the medium,” his father told him.
Installation view, from left to right, of Fernando Botero, Still Life with Pineapple, 1983; and Antonio Barrera, Paisaje, n.d., in Fernando Botero Jr.’s home, Mexico City, 2021. Photo by Paloma Villamil. Courtesy of Botero in China.
His first sustained foray into collecting art began in his late teens and early twenties, when he only had enough disposable income to acquire posters, many of them featuring his father’s works. “At that time there were about 100 Botero pictures around the world, and it was difficult to obtain the complete universe [of them],” he said. Those posters—along with a few by Francis Bacon that he began collecting after meeting the British painter at a vernissage—kickstarted his fledgling collection. Adding posters by Yayoi Kusama and Henry Moore, Botero Jr. built a large enough collection that he decided to export the posters back to his native Colombia, opening a small gallery with his sister called Palabra Imagen in the mid-1970s.
Armed with the capital from his posters and mounting wealth from his successful career in investment banking, Botero Jr. stuck to his credo and began collecting lithographs by modern masters. Alongside Bacon lithographs, Botero Jr. purchased prints by Fernand Léger, Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Jean Dubuffet, Max Ernst, Le Corbusier, and others. “I would always look for great lithographs—low volume, an edition of less than 100, and very well framed,” he recalled.
He has also added well-known Colombian artists like Olga de Amaral and Carlos Salas to his collection, keeping with a practice of never collecting “completely unknown artists,” and preferring instead to collect pieces by artists whose work he already knew quite well. “I try to stay within my circle of competence,” he joked.
Of course, the most exceptional works in his collection remain those created by his father. While Botero Jr. has been gifted some of his father’s works over the years—a portrait of himself as a teenager being the most prized among them—he has also collected them and maintains an active practice of buying and selling Botero works on the secondary market. He does, however, have his rules. “I’m always sad when I sell a piece and happy when I replace it. My rule is to do it almost immediately so I’m always with a stock of great inventory,” he said.
Botero Jr. is well versed in what the market looks for in his father’s works, noting that while all of Botero’s figures are instantly recognizable, paintings with a large family or musician and sculptures featuring horses tend to fetch the highest prices at auction. Yet Botero Jr.’s collection is a quiet homage to his father’s particular genius, with early works from the 1950s and ’60s (before he discovered his signature style) being some of his favorites. His collection is emblematic of Botero’s most iconic themes—the circus, the bullfight, still lifes, and women—and spans eight decades of the artist’s output.
Botero Jr. counseled would-be collectors of his father’s work to start by looking into his drawings, which are available at lower price points and indicative of his genius. “I would strongly urge a young collector to look at his drawings. He has many wonderful drawings that are truly beautiful and encompass his technique and style and vision,” Botero Jr. said. While large-scale drawings remain quite expensive, at around $350,000 to $400,000 per work, smaller drawings can be found for around $30,000 to $100,000.
While there are many reputable galleries that carry his work—like Ascaso Gallery, Opera Gallery, and Gary Nader Art Centre—Botero Jr. said the major auction houses are also great platforms for discovering Botero works.
But his most important advice to anyone looking to obtain a Botero piece for their collection ties back to the lifelong learnings his father instilled in him. “My father always said the most instinctive and important decision [when collecting art] should be quality. A piece of great quality will always be more valuable in the future,” he said.
“Never collect based on what you feel the market will do,” he added. “Collect based on personal taste, not the idea that the price will go up.”