Manila House, Year 2000

I enjoy the company of my hopelessly rich friends.  Because they have Everything, they expend their considerable energies on the minutiae of Life.  They are most concerned about the Right Everything:  the right houses, the right cars, the right clothes, the right shoes, the right watches, the right paintings, the right furniture, the right accessories, the right vacations, the right luggage, the right hotels… even the right extramarital affairs. 

And it is that Pursuit of All Things Right that provides me a great source of amusement.

The Ultra Rich friends have a very cosmopolitan definition of “The Right Things.”  The interiors of their houses look very much like their business partners’ luxurious homes in Park Avenue in New York, Mayfair and Regent’s Park in London, and Avenue Foch in Paris.  To underscore their financial kinships with the Gates, the Ellisons, and the Buffetts, and their lifestyle kinships with the Rothschilds, the Agnellis, and the Thyssen-Bornemiszas, The Filipino Ultra Rich also surround themselves with the paintings, the furniture, and the ultrarare objects that the Forbes 100 also have…     

According to my forever rich Spanish mestizo friends, one must have inherited Juan Lunas and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgos from “Abuelito y Abuelita,” preferably with some Joaquin Sorollas and Ignacio Zuloagas thrown in.  And of course, some Fernando Zobel y Montojo.  Also, one should have heirloom Spanish colonial furniture to emphasize one’s exalted lineage and to dispel any odors of being “nouveau riche” [ horrors ]… never mind if one just bought it yesterday at Kit Roxas’ tres chichi “Tawalisi” Antiques at the LaO’ Center.

According to my ascendant Chinese friends, the ultimate social benediction in their community is to have an Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting in the living room.  It is the surest sign that one has “made it.”  And the more celebrated the better.  How much more impressive can Php 16 million get??? 

If you’re a young Chinese couple, a “Lao Lian Ben” over the sofa in the living room is perfectly acceptable.

“Ang Kiukok” has been desirable and has been a good investment for many years.  Of course, if you’re incredibly rich, why not wallpaper an entire guest wing stairwell with his dazzling works and casually toss some to a tertiary guest bathroom as well???

“BenCab” of course.  I’ve even seen some his large works liberally scattered in very rich young girls’ bedrooms…

My more-or-less Filipino friends insist on the suitability of Fernando Amorsolos for their homes.  Thus the preponderance of Spanish Conquest scenes, bucolic country views, fire trees, baptismal scenes, rice plantings, rice harvests, mango trees, happy peasants, cockfights, World War II burnings, etc..  All of them have paid dearly for superior genuine works.  All of them have paid dearly for inferior genuine works.  Some of them have paid dearly for very good fakes.  And a lucky few simply took magnificent genuine works from their parents’ houses in exchange for nothing more than a big plasma TV and regular visits from the grandchildren.          





  1. cara y cruz said,

    February 7, 2007 at 8:12 pm

    I think a lot of people are bewildered by the art works of F. Zob*l or any Zob*l for that matter. My friends would always harp at their works especially the blown up photography of JZ all around their shopping complex.

    Myles, there seems to be a curious interest for Klimt in Manila because I have been seeing a lot of copies of his work in the past 3 years and it absolutely makes me cringe.

  2. myles g. said,

    January 9, 2007 at 11:49 pm

    Toto Gonzalez wrote: Hmm… don’t be surprised, but several Filipino [ Filipino-Filipino, Spanish-Filipino, American-Filipino, Chinese-Filipino et. al. ] families have more than a dozen Fernando Amorsolos — great, good, bad, and unspeakable — in their residences. A Fernando Amorsolo painting is a status symbol; an Amorsolo from 1925-1939 is a real ace in social one-upmanship among the very rich cognoscenti of ambiguous sexuality here in parochial Manila. *giggles*


    Tell them I have early studies of a Klimt, van Gogh’s “Dr. Gachet” and Rembrandt’s only seascape for sale. Wanna be my Manila agent? Of course, I can hustle up any Picasso or Vermeer if they want those, too. (Remember the profession of the Penelope Cruz’s mother’s character in “Habla con Ella”? She was a counterfeiter-to-order artist. LOL!! Did our late friend VdA deal in any of those?)

    And I remember visitors’ reports to Ir*ne and Greg*y’s house in Woodside, California — that there was a Renoir under the bed; and a Manet or Cezanne sequestered in the garage!! LOL!! Best places to hide these when agents of the U.S. gov’t are a-knocking at your door!

    BTW, I was being kind in my review of F. Zob*l’s work at that just closed show. Really, if you didn’t understand the import of the Ayala Museum’s participation in that show and the loan of its holdings, the average person would be just as baffled as to why FZ is classed as a “Filipino” master?

    Speaking of the big (Pinoy and) world fortunes, I was clearing up some of my old files and trying to throw some old issues of VANITY FAIR, and came across the May 2003 issue which included an article of the in-fighting of Chicago’s Pr*tzker family. (I guess this is how the Il*sorio fortune was also broken up.) Apparently at the last turn of the century, the Pr*tzkers (who assiduously built their fortune honestly) had a combined fortune of some $15 billion. The Pr*tzkers are best known for their ownership of the Hyat* Hotels. (I guess Jose Mari must pay them a management fee for the use of the worldwide name and to be included in their reservations network?) Anyway, at the time of the writing of the article, the closely guarded and held Pr*tzker assets were on the verge of fracture due to a lawsuit filed by one of the younger Pr*tzkers, Liesl, vs. her father, Robert — one of the patriarchs of the clan. Liesl is best known as the lead in the “A Little Princess” film (1995) and played President Harrison Ford’s daughter in “Air Force One” under the screen name, Liesl Matthews. I guess if a Pr*tzker has to work in Hollywood films to make ends meet, then how can we blame a C*juangco, even if only an in-law, to do the same? *guffaws*

    Finally, another postscript: was intrigued by that sordid chapter in Juan Luna’s life of murdering his wife and, turns out, mother-in-law in Paris. Turns out the tragic spouse was Maria de la Paz (of the P*rdo de Tav*ras) and her mom. Altho the dickhead was found guilty by the Paris court, it was considered a crime passionel, and so the jackass got off with a one franc fine per victim. I mean how disgusting can that verdict be. Didn’t realize that it was this episode that F*des Cuyug*n-As*ncio used for the libretto of her operatta SPOLIARIUM.

    Note to self: check with my P*rdo de Tav*ra relatives re the real true story behind this if I can’t get a-hold of the Paris courts’ transcripts.


  3. January 9, 2007 at 12:20 am


    So generous of you to write a review of that Asian Art Museum Exhibit “Pioneers of Philippine Art.”

    My scholarly friends will kill me, but despite endless art courses, classes, lectures, scholarly mentors, and repeated visits to the MOMA, I honestly still do not understand The Art of F*rnando Zob*l y M*ntojo. It is redundantly asserted by critics that “he sought to reduce his subjects to their essence.” To Nothing, I guess. Of course, I always have to “ooh” and “aah” alongside every equally pretentious, stupid, and vapid guest when a recently moneyed and even more recently elucidated and edified but blissfully clueless host proudly explains his just-acquired-for-the-occasion Fernando Zob*l, or Zob*ls, to a group of the supposedly “high culturati.” It reminds me of a story of a dinner with the intellectual socialite Pauline de Rothschild, the director John Huston, and the actress Evelyn Keyes. Pauline asked the table what they thought of Picasso’s Art. The guests gave intelligent answers with witty repartee. All was Style until Evelyn spewed her two cents’ worth: “I think He’s pulling our leg!!!” Pauline the hostess was stunned. That’s me. I think like Evelyn.

    Hmm… don’t be surprised, but several Filipino [ Filipino-Filipino, Spanish-Filipino, American-Filipino, Chinese-Filipino et. al. ] families have more than a dozen Fernando Amorsolos — great, good, bad, and unspeakable — in their residences. A Fernando Amorsolo painting is a status symbol; an Amorsolo from 1925-1939 is a real ace in social one-upmanship among the very rich cognoscenti of ambiguous sexuality here in parochial Manila. *giggles*

    Well, with that new Pinoy cookbook of yours, you had better start cooking!!! There is also that one of the owners of “Cendrillon” in New York, Besa and Dorotan… it looks interesting!!!

    Toto Gonzalez

  4. myles g. said,

    January 8, 2007 at 10:38 pm

    I guess this is the most apropos thread to tack this under.

    I went to Asian Art Museum’s (here in SF) travelling exhibition of “Pioneers of Philippine Art: Luna * Amorsolo * Zobel” last Saturday, before it closed on Sunday. (The show was actually on loan from the Ayala Museum in Makati.)

    I didn’t realize how vibrant and rich and colorful are the works of Amorsolo. No wonder he is called the Master (of Philippine Painting). Certainly, in his colors, I think he was greatly influenced by Renoir and Manet. The other thought was that…what? Nearly all of the dozen or so Amorsolo works belong to the Ayalas? Kinda immoral. The portraits of John McMiking and his wife, the Rico woman, especially the woman’s portrait, are really quite supreme.

    Extending their stranglehold on the rarest of Philippine painting, the few Juan Luna works were, per their captions, belonging to the Bank of the Philippine Islands Colllection. Except for 2 or 3 large portraits, Luna’s works were on the dark side. I didn’t realize he was acquitted of shooting his wife and son in France; and that in his later years, he had joined the Philippines’ diplomatic service.

    Finally, Fernando Zobel’s work (was he named after Amorsolo?): well, what can I say? He was lucky to have money and a museum to house and show his work. But there was also nothing very ‘Filipino’ or ‘Spanish colony’ about his work; they would get lost in a room full of Rothko-like works. (He admittedly greatly admired Rothko.) But at least, his father was perceptive enough to recognize Amorsolo’s talent and send him to Europe for further studies. And in return, the elder Amorsolo took on the young Zobel under his wing, in Manila.

    Too bad there were only like 30 or so works to the whole exhibit. However, I ended up buying a Flip cookbook by Jennifer Arenas at the gift shop. And I don’t even cook!! (No; there wasn’t a ‘food sampling’ table at the exhibit. It’s just that the few items related to the exhibit were (Ha!), underwhelming for their price.) So, let it not be said that my library does not at least contain a Filipino cookbook, even if it is of the coffee-table variety.


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