Conversations about: Graciano Nepomuceno, 1881 – 1974, sculptor

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Conversations about: Isabelo Tampingco, 1850 – 1933, sculptor

Conversations about: Leoncio Asuncion y Molo, 1813 – 1888, sculptor

Conversations about: Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo, 1924 – 1984, painter [ the dead artist, NOT Fernando Zobel “el guapo” the dreamboat ]

We stood before a big white canvas with a messy black splotch in the middle…  we were all awed before it because it had been purchased for an unspeakable sum.  Actually, everything in that house was purchased for unspeakable sums so it was just another purchase during a leisurely afternoon.  The more august among us murmured expressions of comprehension, appreciation, and delight.  Needless to say, I wasn’t one of them.  I wanted to go down and back to the living room where there was more foie gras and more Dom Perignon served by the waiters and big bags of potato chips secreted inside the magnificent Batangas I altar table.

“I have never pretended to be an art connoisseur and I’m certainly not going to start now…  So what’s this all about???”  I looked up and down and left and right and just couldn’t “get it.”

The rest of the company, who were good friends of mine anyway, stared incredulously at me and broke out in guffaws and giggles…

In truly “top-out-of-sight” Manila — the Manila of the Roxas-de Ayala-Zobel-Soriano, the Tuason-Legarda-Prieto-Valdes, the Roxas-Zaragoza-Araneta-O, the Ortigas, the Aboitiz, and now of course the monosyllabic Chinoy ultrarich the Sy, Tan, Go, Tiu, Que Pe, et. al. — a painting by their “primo” Fernando Zobel in one’s home, usually in the living room, is a sign of one’s belonging in that special world.  You see, you just cannot walk into a Manila art gallery and buy a Fernando Zobel.  Not only will you need the $$$ megabucks, you will need the stratospheric social connections to pull it off.  If you bought one and didn’t need either, then you bought a fake, darling.

Conversations about: Vicente Silva Manansala, 1910 -1981, painter

Conversations about: Victorio C. Edades, 1895 – 1985, painter

Conversations about: Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, 1892 – 1972, painter

What a laugh…  I grew up in my Lola Charing’s house which was proudly hung with oil portraits by THE Fernando Cueto Amorsolo.  Unfortunately, all of them, save for Lolo Augusto’s posthumous one from 1947, were from the 1950s, a period decried by serious collectors and scholars for mediocre works because of his deteriorating eyesight.  The one of Tito Willy looked specially sad;  Amorsolo had explained to Lola Charing that he was mimicking the style of Rembrandt.  It looked like Rembrandt on downers.  In any case, they were perfect for Disneyland’s “Haunted Mansion” ride.  Fearing that we grandchildren would neglect and eventually sell them, my uncle Brother Andrew donated the whole spooky lot to the various art gallery units of the DLSU De La Salle University.  They must be haunted by now.

So when I found myself in the houses of family friends with magnificent, blindingly lit Amorsolo genre paintings, I was surprised by how sunny and happy they looked, so unlike ours.

Conversations about: Pablo Cueto Amorsolo

Conversations about: Fabian de la Rosa y Cueto, 1869 – 1937, painter

Long ago in mid-1987, Malolos patrician, historian, and nationwide heritage advocate Basilidez “Dez” Bautista led our group through a memorable tour of his hometown Malolos, Bulacan and environs.

He brought us to the famous prewar Art Deco mansion of the famous ophthalmologist LS.  Apart from the stunning ceiling painting by the young Fernando Amorsolo, and the goldfishes in the guest bathroom walls also by Amorsolo, what riveted my attention was the charming painting “Kundiman” by Fabian de la Rosa, an elegant scene of an afternoon musicale at home where the doctor himself, dressed in a light suit, was depicted seated in the corner.  For me, it was the soul of that house, more than the Amorsolo ceiling opus.

Several years later, in a crazy turn of events, I was admiring, albeit sadly, the very same “Kundiman” by Fabian de la Rosa in the entrance hall, hung with wallfuls of beautiful prewar Fernando Amorsolos, of an ubercollector friend’s Forbes Park house, where it hung by itself on a small section of wall beside the entrance to the dining room.  I wanted to weep at seeing an old friend displaced from one’s original home.  For me, it was totally forlorn and out of context there — a masterpiece among hundreds of other masterpieces in the Chinoy Croesus’ palace —  nowhere as beautiful, shining like a star, as it had been in its original and intended location —  the airy and commodious “sala” of the Art Deco doctor’s mansion in Pariancillo, Malolos, Bulacan.

Over dinner, close friends related, in hush-hush tones, the story of the painting’s acquisition.  I knew the doctor’s family was rich and didn’t need the money the painting had generated [ the broker’s margin notwithstanding ].  My friends related that the Fernando Amorsolo ceiling was badly deteriorated and required immediate restoration.  The doctor’s family, based in Ayala Alabang, was financially solid and could well afford it.  The well-known art restorer from Santa Ana, Manila was summoned and he declared that he could save it.  However, apart from the enormous restoration fee, he required something else from the family:  he would only restore it if the family agreed to sell the “Kundiman” painting by Fabian de la Rosa to him.  It was their Scylla and Charybdis:  it was one or the other.  The doctor’s family, desperate to save what they thought was their greatest treasure — the Amorsolo ceiling — agreed.  The restorer forthwith sold it to the Chinoy Croesus.  Well, we all know what happened to the art restorer after that.  End of story.

A few years ago, I came across another superb Fabian de la Rosa, a large painting of “Planting Rice” which traced its provenance to the estate of the Spanish mestizo patriarch of a rich shipping family.  Magnificent and mesmerizing.  I could not get enough of it the whole evening.  Because the heirs are still affluent and very discreet, the painting and the rest of the distinguished collection — including a large Fernando Amorsolo, a large Jorge Pineda, a unique pair of exquisite oil landscapes on “madre perla” shells by the national hero Jose Rizal, among other splendors — have not been seen by art scholars and connoisseurs for decades and will likely remain so.  That is the reason why it has not landed in the Chinoy Croesus’ palace.

Conversations about: Felix Eduardo Resurreccion Hidalgo y Padilla, 1855 – 1913, painter

“Hidalgo is all light, color, harmony, feeling, limpidness like the Philippines in her calm moonlit nights, in her serene days with her horizons inviting contemplation…”

Dr. Jose P. Rizal during the toast at the dinner in honor of of the prizewinning artists Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo on 25 June 1884 at the “Cafe Ingles.”

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Refinement.  The one characteristic of the paintings of Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo y Padilla.

“The only real “La Banca’!!! ”  Teyet declared smugly as we stood, mesmerized as always during every visit, by the masterpiece in his apartment’s entrance hall.

So it was quite a surprise when we browsed through Teyet’s former BFF “best friend forever” and now archnemesis couturier Pitoy Moreno’s book “Kasalan” [ “Wedding” ] — derided as “Kasalanan” [ “Sin” ] by Teyet — and saw the “La Banca” painting by Hidalgo, another one, this time from the collection of industrialist Manuel Ag*stines and his patrician wife Ros*rito Legarda-Prieto C*ro.

For sure, that was another real “La Banca.”

Another beautiful, relatively accessible Hidalgo painting is “La Inocencia” still in its original Filipino Art Nouveau frame from the collection of Dr. Alejandro Legarda.  It still hangs in the living room of his house.

A real stunner, an epic work, is the mural “The Assassination of Governor Bustamante” in the Leandro and Cecilia Locsin collection.  I first saw it during the Luna-Hidalgo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in the late 1980s.  With the painter’s characteristic finesse, it didn’t even look like a violent assassination.  It looked like the Dominican friars were just parading around with banners or something…

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo y Padilla was born in 1855 to the rich, propertied Padilla family of Binondo, Manila originally from 1700s Lingayen, Pangasinan.  For starters, he was painted at the age of four in 1859 [ or age of six in 1859 if born in 1853;  historians have varied dates  😛 ] with his maternal grandfather Narciso Padilla by the Tondo maestro Antonio Malantic.  Narciso Padilla was a rich lawyer and merchant with several businesses and many commercial real estate properties in Manila and surrounding “arrabales” districts.  Narciso’s daughter, Barbara “Baritay” Padilla de Resurreccion Hidalgo, Felix’s mother, inherited many valuable  properties from him, among them several big warehouses in the Divisoria entrepot in Tondo which lined the Pasig river.  The affluent Padilla family had [ and still has ] a long history distinguished by high professional achievement, wealth, conservatism, and prudence.  The Padilla descendants recall that, with characteristic frugality, their forebears had transferred the “bahay na bato” ancestral house in Lingayen, Pangasinan beam by beam and brick by brick to Calle General Solano in posh San Miguel district, Manila in the late 1800s.  Frugality notwithstanding, the transfer of whole houses “in toto” was not an unusual practice during the Spanish colonial era.

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