University of the Philippines, Quezon City: The Art of World War II, The U.P. Vargas Museum Collection

1940’s World War II paintings at the Vargas Museum

The University of the Philippines (U.P.) was established in 1908, in the city of Manila. After the devastation of World War II, there the Americans bombed Manila and its surroundings down to rumble, the U.P. administration decided to move its main campus to the rolling hills of Diliman, in Quezon City. In the Diliman campus, there stands the U.P. Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center (Vargas Museum), which was build between 1982-1987, after the politician and philanthropist Jorge Bartolome Vargas (1890-1980), donated his entire collection of art and artifacts to the university. In that collection are many paintings that captured the events and effects of the war on the Philippines, including the works of National Artist, Fernando C. Amorsolo. These artworks were featured in a 2008 exhibition entitled “Capturing Anxieties: Amorsolo, His Contemporaries and Pictures of the War“.

1942 Fernando Amorsolo – Bombing of Intendencia

The Intendencia or Aduana Building was the Spanish government custom house during the 19th century, which is located with the walled city of Intramuros. First constructed  in 1892, it was later rebuilt in 1876, after an earthquake flattened the building. The Japanese attacked the Philippines just 10 hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii. Part of that attack was the bombing of the Intendencia. Although it was restored during the Japanese Occupation (1941-1945), the Intendencia was once again bombed by the Americans during the Battle of Manila in 1945. From then on, the Intendencia has remained a husk of its former glory, as a stark reminder of the horrors of war.

1943 Fernando Amorsolo – “Independence This Year” Said His Excellency, Premier Tojo

Part of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines was the enactment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, which was the propaganda campaign of the Japanese to win the Filipinos and other occupied Asian people to believe in a unified Asia under the Japanese Empire that breaks off the shackles of American and European colonialization.  Msny artists were “recruited” to be part of the campaign, and Fernando Amorsolo was one of these artists. In this painting, Amorsolo captures a moment where the Japanese Premier, Hideki Tojo (1884-1948) promises the long awaited Philippine Independence to Jorge Vargas, who was the chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission.


The Battle of Manila (February 3, 1945 – March 3, 1945) was a bloody campaign that left at least 100,000 civilians dead, and much of the City of Manila flattened. The month long siege of American and Filipino forces was accentuated by the devastating artillery fire of the Americans. Other buildings not hit by the Americans were bombed by the Japanese as they fled the city. Massacres were perpetuated by both sides, as people hiding in shelters were killed by the explosions. For Amorsolo and his peers, it was a nightmare to watch the city slowly disintegrate, and hear the lamenting of the people.

1945 Fernando Amorsolo – San Sebastian Church through Quiapo Ruins

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 Cueto de la Rosa (1869-1938). 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.

1942 Vicente Genato – Cruiser Maryland

The USS Maryland BB-46 (1920-1959) was a Colorado-class battleship that served during the Pacific Theater of World War II. It was best known for its participation during the Battle of Midway (June 4-7, 1942) and the Battle of Leyte Gulf (October 23-26, 1944). After a long service in the US Navy, it sold for scrap in 1959.

1942 Vicente Genato – Submarine Sculpin

The USS Sculpin SS-191 (1938-1943) is a Sargo-class submarine that patrolled the waters of the Philippines and South Pacific. During the war, its primary task was to destroy Japanese cargo vessels that were supplying the overseas army, as well as intercept coded messages from their ships. In 1943, the Sculpin was damaged with an encounter with the Asashio-class destroyer Yamagumo (1937-1944), off Truk Lagoon (also known as Chuuk Lagoon), near New Guinea. After most of the crew were captured by the Japanese, the submarine was left to sink into the Pacific.

Vicente Ang Genato came from a long line of businessmen, who continue to this day. His father was a member of the Malolos Congress of 19899. Genato took up painting as a hobby, but he was always hobnobbed with artist such as Amorsolo, because his family owned a lithography shop in Manila. Genato was a graduate of the University of the Philippines, and was a member of the Tiro al Blanco (Manila Gun Club). Genato was also known to paint the matadors, from the bullfights that were still popular in Manila, during the American Occupation (1898-1946).  Later in his life, Genato started experimenting on collage.

1943 Crispin Lopez – Baguio Market

The Japanese Occupation of the Philippines is marked by the Battle of the Philippines ( 8 December 1941 – 8 May 1942), which was concluded with the Fall of Bataan (14 January, 1942) and the Fall of Corregidor (6 May, 1942). With the American leaders headed by Gen. Douglas Pinkney MacArthur (1880-1964) and the Philippine leaders lead by President Manuel Luis Quezón de Molina (1878-1944) leaving the Philippines towards Australia, the Japanese military set up a new government with José Paciano Laurel y García (1891-1959) as the new president. Taking over the many cities and provinces throughout the archipelago, the Japanese find cool mountain air of Baguio City as such an ideal place to hold business. And in December 1944, General  Tomoyuki Yamashita (1885-1946) transfers the headquarters of the Japanese Fourteenth Area Army, to Baguio City. In the painting, Crispin Lopez captures a scene of two Japanese soldiers mingling with the vendors of Baguio City.

Crispin Villafuerte Lopez (1903–1985) was taught by his grandfather Eugenio Lopez, who was a portraitist in their province of Bulacan. He made his name by winning several art competitions in the 1930s and 1940s, and made friends with many of the students of Amorsolo . This lead to his joining the the first generation of Mabini Artists along with  Gabriel Custodio, Simon Saulog, Miguel Galvez, Cesar Buenaventura, and Ben Alano.


1946 Miguel Galvez – Ruins of Legislative Building

The Old Legislative Building is a neoclassical edifice that was built in 1918, as designed by Ralph Harrington Doane (1886-1941) and Antonio Mañalac Toledo (1889-1972). Although the build was originally meant to be home of the National Library, the Philippine Legislature decided to move in and new wings had to be built to accommodate the new tenants. The expansion project was assigned to Juan Marcos Arellano y de Guzmán (1888-1960) in 1926. The Legislative Building was completely destroyed with the bombing of Manila in 1945, and its reconstruction was once again given to Juan Arellano, in 1949. For several decades, the building was home to the Philippine Congress, until its conversion to the National Art Gallery or the National Museum Complex.

Miguel Geronimo Galvez (1912-1989) took art classes under his uncle Teodoro Pascual Buenaventura (1863- 1950) and other teachers of the U.P. School of Fine Arts, in 1932. In 1950, Galvez was able to establish his own studio on Mabini Street in Manila. Galvez is the first ever Filipino to win a silver medal in the 1957 South East Asia Art Festival. He won several awards in AAP annuals and other art contests, and represented the country in the International Exhibition at Kuala Lumpur in 1953. In 1955, He was part of the Traveling World Tour-Exhibit sponsored by the De la Rama Steamship Company. And in 1950, Galvez was honored as the country’s Outstanding Landscape Painter by the San Miguel Corporation. From 1948-1949, Galvez was an art instructor at the Manila Wesleyan Colleges.

1946 Oscar Espiritu – Quiapo Ruins

The Battle of Manila saw many of the great landmarks of the city reduced to rubble. One of the heavily damaged areas was the Quiapo district of Manila. Along Quezon Boulevard, many of the Art Deco buildings were nothing but memories. However, miraculously to the faithful, the Quiapo Church or Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene stood almost unscathed. Founded in 1574, the present structure was designed by National Artist fro Architecture, Juan Felipe de Jesus Nakpil (1899-1986). It was Nakpil’s family who hid the miraculous Black Nazarene in their nearby home, as the bombs fell throughout the city.

Oscar Rindon Espiritu (1895-1960) first experience in art was through his father Manuel Espiritu, a noted painter in the 19th century. When his parents died, Espiritu lived with his uncle Anselmo, who was also an acclaimed painter and sculptor. He took further studies at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, where he graduated in 1928. He later worked for Graphic and Philippine Magazine in the 1930s, with many of his paintings gracing the covers. Espiritu first taught at the Instituto de Mujeres, then he decided to found the Academy of Fine Arts in his house in Sampaloc, in 1937.

Dominador Castañeda – Ravaged Manila

The greatest toll of the Battle of Manila was the loss of civilian lives. Many were killed by the bombs, as they tried to hide in the homes or at the shelters. Some were killed in the crossfire between the Americans and the Japanese, and there were some cases of families being gunned down by the fleeing Japanese. Even before the battle, there were many cases of the ruthlessness of the Japanese, which included the rape of women and the bayoneting of babies. These horrors we capture by Dominador Castañeda, as he symbolically painted the dead naked woman as a representation of the Philippines, with her lifeless children scattered around her; while the survivors of the devastation march on by.

Dominador Hilario Castañeda (1904-1967) graduated from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1924, and then he readily joined the modernist movement started by Victorio C. Edades (1895 -1985). Castañeda later took further studies at America to the Art Institute of Chicago. Upon his return, he joined the faculty o the U.P. School of Fine Arts, and became its director at a latter point in time. He was also a noted art historian, who wrote “Art in the Philippines” in 1964. Aside from the many awards he received from art competitions, Castañeda was also honored with the Patnubay Sining Award by the City of Manila, in 1971.

1946 Elias Laxa – Estero de Ongpin

After the war, the people of Manila tried to continue with their lives, but the toll was too great. Many joined the exodus to Quezon City and other nearby municipalities, as the much of the infrastructure in Manila had been razed to the ground. For those who stayed, they had to face the continuous reminder of the horrors of that battle. They slowly rebuilt their lives in small shanties, inside the ruins of their former homes.

Elias Laxa (1904-1990) studied painting at the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts, and graduated in 1933. A student of Amorsolo, Laxa was known for his beautiful seascapes, which reflected his past as a fisherman’s son. As an accomplished painter, Laxa won many awards. Soon after the war, Laxa and his family relocated to Hawaii.

1943 Gregorio Sibug – Reconstruction and Rehabilitation

The reconstruction and rehabilitation of Manila and other cities affected by the war was long and arduous road. Yet slowly the people saw this as a means to shrug off the vestiges of the past and recreate a vision of the modern Filipino. Local entrepreneurs picked up the old World War II jeeps and refitted them to become the primary mode of public transport in the Philippines: the Jeepney. The argument between conservative artists and the modernists, faded away with the rise of Neo-Realism in art. Although some of the Neoclassic and Art Deco building of the American Occupation were restored, many new modern buildings were popping up all over the cities. And in 1946, the Philippines finally won its independence. All of these were witness by Jorge Vargas, as he continued to collect the artworks that would tell the history of the Filipino people.

1982-87 Vargas Museum


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