Fernando Botero – The Reader – 1982

Historic Information

Born in 1932, modern Colombian-born painter Fernando Botero is known for his distinctive and modern style employing unusual volume and manipulation of scale. The artist, still living today, has received international acclaim for his paintings, drawings and sculptures. Following his father’s early death, Botero displayed an interest in art and was influenced by themes of small town society, religious imagery, and trends from art history. Botero’s first exhibit occurred in 1948, the same year in which he had earned an award and art feature in El Colombiano newspaper. The recognition allowed him to pursue art seriously and he was greatly influenced by studying European masterworks in Barcelona, Madrid, Paris and Florence, ultimately completing first painting exploring the signature “bloated” form he’d become known for in 1956. While many of his works depict pastoral Colombian family life and society in his “Boterismo” style, he is known for producing later work with themes of satire, sharp political commentary and statements on society and war. In particular, he received international attention for his 2004 images of violence among Colombian guerilla drug violence and 2004-2005 images depicting prisoners of war tortured at Abu Ghraib, all done using his signature exaggerated body form. Many prestigious institutions and art collectors count Botero works among their collections.

The Reader, also known as “Woman Reading,” was painted by Fernando Botero in 1982. The female figure is painted as a nude in the artist’s signature Boterismo style of exaggerated body proportion. The image is one of many female nudes and multiple depictions of women reading that Botero painting throughout his career.

Artifact's Condition Prior to Treatment

The painting was executed in an oil medium over a white preparatory ground layer on a medium weight plain weave linen canvas. A light dirt layer was present over the entire surface. A dark liquid has also been spattered onto the painting over the subject’s right calf, ankle, and foot. There was a 1” x 3” white blanched area in the blue sky. There were also about a dozen tiny, white, pinhead-sized isolated losses scattered primarily throughout the bottom third of the composition, which are the result of surface abrasion where the painting was rubbed against another surface or perhaps another painting. The painting was stretched over a well-built six-member stretcher and secured to the stretcher with tacks. All twelve of the original stretcher keys were present. The painting was somewhat slack on its stretcher. All four edges were covered with adhesive-backed brown Kraft paper tape. The painting was signed in the bottom right corner of the composition in red/brown oil paint by the artist – “BOTERO 82.” Four gallery labels were present on the painting’s corrugated cardboard backing.


The painting’s frame was not original to the artwork. Minor abrasion was present along isolated areas of all four front edges. Brown fibers from a felt-padded rabbet edge were stuck into the painted surface in several areas around the composition. The frame’s linen covered liner was somewhat poorly constructed and was not stable. The linen covering was also stained and delaminating. In addition, the wooden substrate with mitered corners was not in plane at the joints. The painting itself was attached to an “L”-shaped piece of molding that had been painted black and was intended to create the appearance of a floating painting within the frame. The brown delaminating Kraft paper on the tacking edges was quite visible in contrast to the black molding and defeated the purpose of having a black floater molding around the painting. The screws holding the painting into the “L”-shaped molding only penetrated into the backside of the painting’s stretcher about ¼” and5 of the 12 screws had ripped out during transport. There was also very little hardware used to secure the “L”-shaped support molding to the linen liner. The outer painted and gilded portion of the frame was flaking due to the shrinking of the wooden substrate, particularly where it had been abraded along the front outer edges and on the flat bottom edge. It was feared that, even with the consolidation of known cracked and lost areas, the gesso and paint of sections were more unstable than was immediately apparent and would flake off during continued handling. Although the frame looked substantial, it had a lot of structural and hardware issues and it was highly recommended that the frame be replaced with one more capable of supporting and protecting Botero’s wonderful painting.

Treatment of the Artifact

Upon arrival at our studio, the painting was carefully uncrated and unframed. The painting was surface cleaned with water-diluted detergent, followed by a mild solvent rinse. The dark surface splatters were removed on the woman’s proper right calf, ankle, and foot using a surgical scalpel. The brown felt-like fibers stuck in the paint’s surface around the outer edge of the painting were removed with a second dilute detergent and cotton swab, followed by a local solvent rinse. Minor abrasions, isolated flake losses and the blanched area in the sky were inpainted with conservation grade paints. The original acidic corrugated cardboard backing was removed and the painting was keyed out to reduce ripples in the canvas corners. A new acid-free white inert corrugated plastic backing board was applied to the painting and secured. The four gallery labels were carefully removed from the original acidic backing board and encapsulated in Mylar before being reattached to the new backing. The conserved painting was properly reframed in a new frame with liner chosen by the client.

Photographic Documentation