At the University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman campus, a visitor can take a visual tour of Philippine history by visiting the U.P. Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center (Vargas Museum), which has an impressive collection of artworks and artifacts from the Spanish Colonial Period (1523-1898), to American Occupation (1898-1946), and to contemporary times. The museum opened in 1987, after Jorge Bartolome Vargas (1890-1980) donated his collection to the university in 1978, who is noted to be the 1st National Executive Secretary during the Philippine-American Commonwealth Era (1935-1946).
The University of the Philippines opened in 1908 in the city of Manila, with the School of Fine Arts as one of its first academic institutions. The School of Fine Arts, which is now the College of Fine Arts (CFA), is the first institutional school of the arts; whereas before that, students took their art lessons from the different small art schools that opened in the 19th century, or they would have to apprentice under a master. In the Vargas Museum collect, some of the 19th century artists who took their art lessons from the smaller art schools were Juan Luna de San Pedro y Novicio (1857 – 1899), Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo y Padilla (1853 – 1913), Rafael Enriquez y Villanueva (1850-1937), Simon Flores y Dela Rosa (1839 – 1904), and Ramón Resurrección Peralta (1877-1940).
During the 19th century, many artists were painting as style called genre art, which were paintings of daily scenes and landscapes from both the city and the barrios. Thus trend developed from the artists’ independence from the patronage of the Church and painting religious themes, as well as a breakaway from painting historical themes as often sought by the institutions. One such those genre artist of the late 19th century was Teodoro Pascual Buenaventura (1863- 1950). In 1893, the art school Academia de Dibujo y Pintura (The Academy of Drawing and Painting) changed its name to the Escuela Superior de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado (Superior School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving), and Buenaventura became its director, where he conducted the classes of the Academia in his home. Later on, he would close tha Academia and join the faculty of the U.P. school of Fine Arts. Among his most notable students were Serafin Serna (1895-1985), Tomas Bernardo, and Mauro Malang Santos (b. 1928).
Patricio Gaston O’Farrell (1879 – 1942) was a Chinese-Filipino, from the wealthy Tuason clan. O’Farrell was also of Irish and French descent, as his mother was a French citizen. He started his art lessons at the age of eight at the Escuela de Artes Y Oficios and took private lessons under Felix Martinez (1859-1907). In 1892, O’Farrell became friends with Juan Luna, who would later become his mentor. O’Farrell is noted for winning the bronze at the St. Louis Exposition, 1904; the bronze medal at the Asociasion Internacional of 1908; and the bronze award at the Panama-Pacific Exposition, of 1915.
Jorge Pineda (26 July 1879-12 Sept 1946) is another genre painter, who studied under Teodoro Buenaventura , at the Escuela Superior de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado. Pineda won the awards at the Universal Exposition in St Louis, Missouri, USA: bronze for “Campesina” (Farm Girl), showing a solidly drawn head of a rural lass, and honorable mention for “Las Buyeras” (Women Preparing Betel Nut Chew) in 1904. He was also a noted cartoonist, whose works were featured in The Philippines’ Free Press.
Graciano T. Nepomuceno (1881-1974) was a noted classical sculptor, who made his niche during the American Occupation. Nepomuceno studied painting under Miguel Zaragoza y Aranquizna (1847- 1923) at Liceo Filipino, and sculpture under prize-winning sculptor Ciriaco Arevalo. Aside from beautiful symbolical wooden sculptures, he is also known for creating the decorative panels at the Malacañang Palace and the façade of Metropolitan Theater. Nepomuceno is also known for his intricately sculpted santos (saints).
The American Occupation of the Philippines was never a well accepted by the Filipinos, and soon after the Americans took over, the Philippine American War in 1899, and “officially” ended in 1902. While there were many uprisings throughout the archipelago, most of the Filipinos settled down to the iron fisted rule of the foreigners. Soon many of the locals not just toed the line, but accepted whole heartedly the life with the Americans, and the city culture adapted to this quickly. However, many intellectuals and artists were quietly angered by this change of heart, and they believed many of the city folk have lost sight of what the Filipino spirit and the elusive freedom that many have sacrificed their lives for. This raged was captured by Guillermo Tolentino‘s “Filipinas in Bondage” (undated).
Guillermo Estrella Tolentino (1890 -1976) is a classical sculptor who was named National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1973. Tolentino took his art studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and later at the Ecole de Beux Arts. In 1926, he started teaching at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and he would later be given the position of director. Tolentino sculpted the University of the Philippines’ most recognizable emblem, the “U.P. Oblation”, as well as the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. He was also awarded the UNESCO Cultural Award in Sculpture in 1959, Araw ng Maynila Award in Sculpture in 1963, Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1967, President’s Medal of Merit in 1973, and the Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1972, before given the highest honor as National Artist.
From the opening of the University of the Philippines in 1908, the graduates of the U.P. School of Fine Arts (or Escuela de Bellas Artes as it was then called) dominated the art scene for most of the American Occupation. The first director was Rafael Enriquez; with José Maria Raymundo Asunción (1869-1925), Teodoro Pascual Buenaventura (1863- 1950), Vicente Francisco (1866-1936), Antonio Garcia , Joaquin Ma. Herrer (1837-1917), Vicente Rivera y Mir (1872-1954) and Miguel Zaragoza y Aranquizna (1847- 1923) as the first instructors of the school.
Vicente Francisco (1866-1936) is most noted for his four figures on the façade of the Manila Cathedral, in Intramuros. Francisco apprenticed under Sotero Garcia (1844 -1917); and he would share all his knowledge at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, where Guillermo Tolentino was his student.
In 1910, Fabián Cueto de la Rosa (May 5, 1869 – December 14, 1938) joined the faculty of the U.P. School of Fine Arts, who later became its director from 1927 until the death of his wife in 1937.Under De la Rosa, many of his students also became instructors at the School of Fine Arts, such as: Ambrocio Mijares Morales (1892-1974), Guillermo Tolentino, Irineo Miranda, and his nephews Fernando Amorsolo and Pablo Amorsolo. De la Rosa first took his studies at the Escuela Superior de Pintura, Grabado y Escultura under the directorship of Don Lorenzo Rocha y Ycaza (1837-1898). In 1904, De la Rosa won gold medal in the St. Louis Exposition, for his painting “Planting Rice”.
Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892-1972) is one of the most important artists in the history of painting in the Philippines. Fernando, along with his brother Pablo, lost his father at an early age; and they were “adopted” by their uncle Fabián de la Rosa. Born in Paco, Manila, Amorsolo earned a degree from the Liceo de Manila Art School in 1909, before entering the U.P. School of Fine Arts and graduating in its first batch in 1914. Amorsolo’s portrayal of the beautiful and dignified peasants of the Philippine countryside, as a form of silent nationalistic protest against the rapid adapting of American styles and attitudes among Filipinos in the city, and thus he was showing the true spirit of the Filipino was to be found in the provinces. He was declared the first National Artist, by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, in 1972. Amorsolo is also known for designing the label of the very popular gin, Ginebra San Miguel.
During the American Occupation, the genre painting style soon evolved a Romantic Realism movement, which was a means to emphasize traditional Filipino values over the rapid acceptance of the colonial influences of the Americans. With Fabián de la Rosa’s retirement, Fernando Amorsolo took the director’s position at the U.P. School Fine Arts, in 1938 (up to 1952). His influence on the students’ works into Romantic Realism lead to the style being called “The Amorsolo School of Art”. Other genre artists of that time lead this to the dominant style of the American period. One such proponent was Fernando’s brother, Pablo Cueto Amorsolo (1898 -1945). Graduation from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in1924, Pablo became known for his editorial illustrations for Philippine magazines such as the Philippine Graphic, Tribune, La Vanguardia, Philippine Herald, and Manila Times. This strong sense of nationalism in the Amorsolo family has also brought tragedy to them. In the 1890s, their eldest brother Perico joined the Katipunan movement in the revolution against Spain. He was later captured and killed by the Spanish authorities. This event leads to the heartache of their father, Pedro, and eventually his death. During World War II, it was believed that Pablo became a collaborator to the Japanese, whom he may have chosen as a better choice over the American imperialists. He was captured by Filipino guerillas, and killed in Antipolo.
Irineo L. Miranda (1896-1964) graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1916. Miranda was first noted as an illustrator for the periodicals such as Liwayway and El Debate, and created the cover design for the first Philippine Graphic magazine. He was considered the best watercolorist and political cartoonist of his time, and he was the first artist to be dubbed as the “Dean of Filipino Cartoonists.” Miranda first gave private art lessons, including tutoring the young future modernist Anita Magsaysay-Ho; however he soon returned to his alma mater at became a full time teach at the School of Fine Arts. In his portrait sessions, he found one of his muses in the future senator, Santanina Rasul. And in his sketching sessions, many of his students eventually became National Artists, such as Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Jose Joya and Napoleon Abueva. In 1953, Miranda was injured in a road accident that leads to his inability to use his right hand for a while. Another student, Carlos Valino, becomes his apprentice to help him complete his works.
The painters of the American period were enjoying the economic boom with international trade and the Commonwealth Act (1935-1946), and soon commissioned portraits were all the rage among the new rich of those times.
Often the artists of the American Occupation would rush to the provinces in the weekends, to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. There, they would immerse themselves in the fresh air and paint the natural colors of the countryside, much like how Vincent Van Gogh left Paris for Arles.
Juan Marcos de Guzmán Arellano (1888 – 1960) is known as one of the Philippines’ founding fathers of architecture. He finished his studies at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila in 1908; while taking art lessons under noted masters Lorenzo Leogardo Guerrero (1835 -1904), Toribio Asona Antillon (1856-1913), and Fabian de la Rosa. When most people thought that he would pursue a full time career in the arts, Arellano decided to take architectural studies at the Drexel Institute in 1908, and further architectural studies at the Académie des Beaux-Arts. However the draw to painting could not be resisted and he to additional art studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1911. As an architect, Arellano is most noted for Manila’s Metropolitan Theater (1935), Executive House (1926, now houses the National Museum of the Philippines), the Manila Post Office Building (1926), and Jones Bridge.
Vicente Alvarez Dizon (1905-1947) is noted for winning the top prize with his painting “After the Day’s Toll”in the Golden Gate International Exposition, in 1939 in San Francisco, California. The painting was judged the best among the works of 77 artists, including that of Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dali. Dizon studied at the Yale University where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in1936. Afterwards, he joined University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, where he lectured on History of Art (1940-47) and at the UP college of Education, where he also lectured on Art and Interior Decoration (1946-47).
Wenceslao Sicat Garcia (28 Sept 1915-7 March 1979) was an award winning artist, who bagged an honorable mention for “Communal Cooperation” at the second KALIBAPI National Art Competition in 1944, and the third prize for “Peasant’s Daughter” at the Art Association of the Philippines art competition in 1951. Garcia graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1933, along with more noted modernists with Anita Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012) and Simplicia “Nena“ L. Saguil (1924-1994).
Dr. Toribio Herrera (1892 -1968) studied medicine at the University of Santo Tomas, and graduated in 1912. After practicing medicine for a while, he decided to pursue his love for painting. Later on, Herrera joined the U.P. School of Fine Arts faculty; where he became the teacher of the future National Artists Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981), Carlos Modesto Villaluz Francisco (1912-1969), Cesar Torrente Legaspi (1917 -1994), Napoleón Isabelo Veloso Abueva (born 1930), José T. Joya (1931-1995), Abdulmari Asia Imao (1936-2014) and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1932-2011).
The artists of that day explored every image that would express that very notion of the Filipino identity. For the romanticized peasants in the rice fields, to the exotic ethnic groups of Mindanao, to the colorful expanses of the countryside, to local fiestas and traditions, such as a Filipino Christmas. However, this idealism would soon be challenged by a different identity: the Modern Filipino. And that would be the subject of the next article of the Vargas Museum collection.