When artist, educator and businessman Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo (1924–1984) donated his collection of over 200 artworks to the Ateneo de Manila University in 1961, little did he know that this would sow the seeds of the establishment of top institution of modern art in the Philippines. This art institution is the Ateneo Art Gallery, which is now housed at the Areté; the newest building in the Ateneo campus along Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City.
Since Fernando Zóbel de Ayala’s childhood, Philippine art was dominated by the Romantic Realist style, led by Fernando Amorsolo, and previously by his teacher and uncle, Fabián de la Rosa y Cueto (1869-1937). The Romantic Realist style was a reaction to the American occupation of the Philippines (1898-1946) and a critical commentary of the Filipinos who adopted a lifestyle of the new colonizers. The Romantic Realists envisioned the spirit of the true Filipino was not to be found in the in the cities, but can be discovered in the lives of the rural folk. Such an upliftment of the barrio life can be seen in Amorsolo’s “Dalagang Bukid” (Barrio Lass), as he paints a ennobled and idealized vision of a country maiden. Despite the hardships of a farmer’s life, she looks directly at the viewer with a dignified smile.
Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (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.
Many of the painters of the time were students of Amorsolo and Deal Rosa, enrolling at the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Fine Arts, and they picked up the painting style of their teachers. However, some artists who came from abroad were trying to promote modernist styles in the Philippines. Among them were the Italian Art Deco sculptor, Francesco Riccardo Clementi Monti (1888-1958), and the Filipino-Spanish caricaturist Luis León Lasa. Traveling between Manila and Madrid, Lasa would create caricature portraits of celebrities, politicians, socialites, nobility and artists in an abstracted expressionistic style. Among the artworks donated by his family, the most noted pieces are of the famous Spanish personalities in the 1940s; such as nationalist José Ibáñez Martín (1896-1969), writer Jose Ruiz Yriarte, poet Francisco Rodríguez Marín (1855-1943), actor Alady (1902–1968), military architect and painter Coronel Eduardo Lagarde (1883-1950), painter Pipo Carreño, historian and critic Dr. Julián Juderías y Loyot (1877-1918), painter Joan Vila Puig (1890-1963), painter Antonio Solis Ávila (1899-1968), writer and dramatist Ramón Gómez de la Serna Puig (1888-1963), Marquess of Iria Flavia and Nobel Literary honoree Camilo José Cela y Trulock (1916-2002), author and historian Gaspar Tato Cumming, painter and poet Eduardo Chicharro y Agüera (1873-1949), Prince Fernando María Luis Francisco de Asís Isabelo Adalberto Ildefonso Martín Bonifacio (Infante de Baviera Borbon, 1884-1958), Portuguese actor Antonio d’Algy (Antonio Eduardo Lozano Guedes, 1897-1977), and Venezuelan actor Antonio Bienvenida (Antonio Mejías Jiménez, 1922-1975).
Luis León Lasa (1890-1986) is a Filipino-Spanish caricaturist, who was born in the Philippines. Known for his expressionist caricatures of Spanish aristocracy, politicians, artists and socialites, Lasa would return every-now-and-then to the Philippines to create pieces for the local elite. One of his most noted Philippines works is that of President Manuel Quezon (1878-1944), which is on display at the Quezon Memorial Shrine.
Despite the influences of modern art in sculpture and commercial art, painting would still remain under the thrall of the Amorsolo School for the duration of the American Occupation. However, some artists who were able to travel abroad wanted to bring a new paradigm to Philippine art, based on the many styles of modern art they have experienced in Europe. The first to brave the storm of criticism was Victorio Edades, whose 1928 Expressionist exhibit would garner critical disdain from conservative artists and critics. Soon more artists would join the call for new styles in art making, often experimenting in expressionism and impressionism, such as Edades’ portrait of “Teresa Angustia”.
Victorio C. Edades (1895-1985) was born in Pangasinan, and he is considered father of Philippine Modern Art. He broke into the scene with his solo exhibition at the Philippine Columbian Club, in 1928. The exhibition also featured the two large and dark expressionistic paintings “The Builders” and “The Sketch”, which was a shock to the conservative art society. This exposure to modern art came from Edades education at the Architecture and Fine Arts at the University of Washington in Seattle. These painting were a stark different from the gaily lit works of the romanticists, who dominated the art scene then. He was panned for his works, but he continued to promote modern art. He soon drew in more adherents to the modernist styles, which finally took hold in the 1940s. At the meantime, Edades would start teaching at the University of Santo Tomas’ (UST) Department of Architecture, where he would later serve as its dean. At the UST, Edades would introduce the Liberal Arts Program, which would later develop into the College of Fine Arts and Design (CFAD). After retiring from UST, Edades would migrate to Davao City, where he became active with the local communities. There he founded the Mindanao Ethnoculture Foundation. Edades was declared a National Artist in 1976.
Impressionism was an easy transitional style that early Filipino modernists utilized to bridge the aesthetics of Romantic Realist that the conservatives were accustomed to with the growing desire to experiment in modernist styles. Dominador Castañeda was one of those who experimented in this style, such as his piece “Lavanderas” (Women Washing Clothes). Instead of sharp images of the central characters, Castañeda renders the women in a haze as if the painting were capturing a glimpse of the scene, and not the actual picture.
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 (189 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.
Another artist to experiment on Impressionism and Expressionism was Diosdado Lorenzo, whose bold strokes and bright splotches of color would evoke a dynamic energy and emotion to the somewhat somber rural scene, as seen in this work “The Farmer’s House.”
Diosdado Magno Lorenzo (1906-1984) graduated with honors from the U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1928, and he was soon exhibiting side-by-side with his mentor and the classicist painter Fernando Amorsolo. In the early 1930s, he pursued further studies at the Real Academia de Belle Arte de San Fernando, Madrid, Spain; and the Asociazione Internazionale Artistica in Rome, Italy. In 1936, Lorenzo helped organize the Academia di Belle Arti, which was the first art academy in Hong Kong. Returning to the Philippines, he started teaching at the University of Santo Tomas, where he became its director for 26 years. As he continued to paint, Lorenzo soon moved away from the classical style of his teachers, and started dabbling in a style that was a cross between impressionism and expressionism. This breakaway from tradition led to Lorenzo’s inclusion of the first 13 Moderns of Philippine art. Lorenzo was awarded the Araw ng Maynila Award in 1969 and the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1970.
The next group of modernists would take a step away from the Impressionism and Expressionism styles and look towards Cubism as their inspiration. Taking apart a subject matter and represent the various facets of the image in different angles on a singular visual plane is best captured in Vicente Manasala’s “Jeepneys.” In this painting, the King of the Philippine Roads is spliced and reorganized into overlapping forms, and thus the view cannot tell how many jeepneys one is looking at. In the painting “Dambana” (Altar), Manansala abstracts the saints in the niches retablo (altarpiece) and reduces the ornate Baroque carvings into simple squiggles of a brush. And finally with “Rooster,” Manansala allows the watercolor to run all over the sheet to create a haunting image of a cock crowing to a blue sun.
Vicente Silva Manansala (1910-1981) took his first art lessons under the turn-of-the-century genre painter Ramón Resurrección Peralta (1877-1940), before entering the U.P. school of Fine Arts in 1926. After graduating in 1930, Manansala continued his studies at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Montreal, Canada, and in Paris, France. While in Paris, he took an apprenticeship under the French avant-garde artist Joseph Fernand Henri Léger(1881-1955). In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Manansala took more studies at the Otis Art Institute, in California, USA. Manansala’s first jobs in the 1930s were as an illustrator for the Philippines Herald and Liwayway and layout artist for Photonews and Saturday Evening News Magazine. As an artist, Manansala was honored with the Republic Cultural Heritage Award in 1963, the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1970, and he was proclaimed National Artist in Painting in 1982.
By the late 1940s, modern art had become had gained acceptance among many collectors, through the support of the critic and writer Purita Kalaw Ledesma (1914-2005) and the establishment of the Art Association of the Philippines in 1948. Without any strong opposition, artists started delving into other modernist styles, such as Surrealism. Galo Ocampo launches a series of works with the Lenten flagellants as his subject, and in the haunting piece “River of Life” he shows two flagellants washing their wounds at a shallow river as it runs red with their blood.
Galo B. Ocampo (1913-1985) is a painter, sculptor, scenographer, writer, educator, columnist, museum curator, and cultural-activist from the province of Pampanga. Ocampo took his formal art training at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), and he would be later study heraldry and become a member of the International Institute of Genealogy and Heraldry in Madrid. Later on, Ocampo would go to Rome, and study Liturgical Art at the Instituto Internasionale de Arte Liturgica. As a painter, Ocampo is known as part of the triumvirate of the first modernists in the 1930s with Victorio Edades (1895 -1985) and Carlos “Botong” Francisco (1914-1969). During World War II (1938-1945), Ocampo was a captain in the guerrilla movement against the Japanese, and would lead in intelligence gathering. As a cover, Ocampo would create stage backdrops for the actor/director Allan Fernando Reyes Poe Sr. (1916-1951) and his Associated Artists group. During the term of Pres. Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965), Ocampo served as curator of the Presidential Museum of Malacañang, later on as director of the National Museum, and served as a Secretary of the Philippine Heraldry Committee which helped to design various seals of the different cities, municipalities, and provinces around the country. In the 1960s, Ocampo started teaching at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) and at the Far Eastern University (FEU), where he became head of the Department of Fine Arts in 1971. Although the symbolical painting “Brown Madonna” (1938) was a radical piece in its time, Ocampo moved on to more surreal imagery, with his flagellant themed collection embodied in “Ecce Homo” (Behold the Man), echoed his nightmares of the war. Ocampo also worked with the American anthropologist, Robert Bradford Fox (1918–1985), in his work on the Tabon Caves in Palawan; which would be the inspiration of Ocampo’s first solo exhibition in 1973. Although Ocampo received the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila in 1964 and posthumously awarded the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Marangal na Pinuno in 2015, he was never honored as a National Artist, due to questions about his possible dual Filipino-American citizenship.
The vanguards of this new art were called the 13 Moderns by the critics, and Anita Magsaysay-Ho would be the lone woman in their pantheon of modern masters. Experimenting with abstracted forms and Expressionism, Magsaysay-Ho would use brown skinned female laborers as her subject matter in her paintings. In “Sheaves”, Magsaysay-Ho presents five farm hands bundling the rice stalks after a harvest. The broad brushstrokes and lack of detail allows the view to dynamism of the women in action.
Anita Corpus Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012) is a figurative painter, who is considered as one of the pioneers of Philippine Modern Art. Magsaysay-Ho paintings are known for her stylized renderings of rural women in daily scenes, often with local floral as their backdrop. Magsaysay-Ho took her formal studies at the University of the Philippines (U.P.), where she learned the classical styles under Fabian de la Rosa, Vicente Rivera y, and the Amorsolo brothers. However, her tutelage under Victorio Edades and Enrique Ruiz, in Edades’ School of Design, influences Magsaysay to explore modernist techniques. This would prompt Magsaysay to take further studies at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan and the Art Students League in New York, USA, where she took more courses in art-making. In New York, she met Robert Ho, a Hong Kong national, whom she would later marry. During the 1940s, Anita and her husband would live in Brazil, Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan, depending on her husband’s work. Throughout her career, Magsaysay-Ho’s works has gone through several phases, from expressionism, to calligraphic inspired painting, and to her soft toned paintings of her latter days; all the while still exploring her idealize native woman. Until her final days, Magsaysay-Ho was continually painting her visions of the Filipina, inspiring fellow artists for generations.
From the early cubist influence, other artists would shift into pure abstraction, and H.R. Ocampo would become the pioneers in Philippine abstract art. Ocampo’s earlier works would still have recognizable forms of a subject matter, such as “Isda at Mangga” (Fish and Mango) with the fish and the mango broken into planar form on a checkered table. The painting “53-G: Beefsteak” is a humorous interplay of amorphous shapes of beef cuts floating in the brown soy sauce stew. In “53-Q: Sarimanok,” Ocampo takes the geometric and floral patterns of the Maranao people’s carving of the mythical rooster, and spreads these into a 2D plane. And finally in “56-E: Joseph’s Coat” takes the concept of the Biblical story (Genesis 37:1-44:9) of the multi-colored coat that Jacob had given his youngest son, Joseph.
Hernando Ruiz Ocampo (1911-1978) was a self-taught painter who started in a cubist style, before becoming one of the first masters of abstractionism in Philippine art. He was part of the first “13 Moderns”, who pushed the envelope Philippine art towards modernism. Ocampo first studied law and commerce, before taking up creative writing. He established himself as a noted poet, playwright, fictionalist, editor, and a scriptwriter and director for television; in which he was known to have written for Palaris Feler and Fernando Poe Productions, and produced and directed for the Filipino Players Guild. Many of his articles could be found in Taliba newspaper and Manila Sunday Chronicle magazine. Ocampo also branched out to business, where he started working at the Philippine Education Company (PECO) in 1931, and he worked as executive secretary of the National Paper Mills Inc. in 1935. As an artist, he was honored with Republic Cultural Award in 1965; Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award in 1969; Diwa ng Lahi Award in 1976; Gawad CCP para sa Sining Award in 1979; and the posthumous recognition as National Artistin 1991.
By the 1950s, modernism has become the standard of Philippine Art, and was called Neo Realism or a means to see reality in a different and new visual language. And the vanguards of the is modernism movement were called the Thirteen Moderns; who were Victorio Edades, Diosdado Lorenzo, Vicente Manansala, Galo Ocampo, H.R. Ocampo, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Carlos “Botong” Villaluz Francisco (1914-1969), Cesar Torrente Legaspi (1917 -1994), Demetrio Diego (1909-1988), José Sabado Pardo (1916-2002), Ricarte Madamba Purugganan (1912-1998), Bonifacio Nicolas Cristobal (1911-1977), and Arsenio Capili (1914-1945). Aside from the early explorations into Impressionism, Expressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Abstraction; artists began delving other styles of modern art, such as experiments in alternative media and even printmaking. These new master will be tackled in the new article on the collection of the Ateneo Art Gallery.