From around 1850 to 1900, a talented artist was busy painting all those stately portraits of — well, not all, but mostly — ugly and fat, or ugly and thin, rich Pampango dons and donas, senoritos and senoritas, in mostly vertical but also curiously horizontal modes [ “memento mori” ]. When not busy with portrait commissions, he was occupied painting murals in several Pampanga churches like Bacolor and Betis. His name was Simon Flores y de la Rosa and he was from Paco, Manila and he had married a Pampanguena named Simplicia Tambungui y Pineda from Guagua town [ what an authentic “Queni” surname, you can’t get more Capampangan than that!!! ].
Almost every “bahay na bato” mansion of a “principalia” family in every town of Pampanga had an oil portrait or a painting by Simon Flores. Predictably, the greatest numbers were in the old, principal towns of Bacolor, Mexico, Guagua, and San Fernando.
There were predictably many Simon Flores portraits and paintings in the capital town of Bacolor.
One of the earliest known works of Simon Flores, dated “20 de Mayo 1862,” painted when he was all of 23 years old, is the still-extant portrait of Olegario Rodriguez [ o 1806 – + 1874 ], patriarch of the still-flourishing Rodriguez clan of Bacolor, when the subject was “56 anos.” Olegario Rodriguez was depicted wearing the European black coat with tails, embroidered “nipis” shirt [ of “pina” or “jusi” fabrics ], and trousers of a “principalia,” seated on a Biedermeier-style armchair, with his arm resting on a grooved marble top table, which 128 years later until the lahar flows of 1991, still stood in the center of the “sala” of his own house. The portrait is with Rodriguez descendants in Manila.
A noteworthy and famous pair of Simon Flores portraits, the spouses Jose Leon Santos and Ramona Joven y Suarez, both of Bacolor, now hang in the “sala” of the “Museo De La Salle” in Dasmarinas, Cavite, created by their great great grandson Jose Maria “Joey” Yaptinchay-Abad Panlilio. One vividly remembers the comic story of Joey Panlilio, as related by his grandmother Luz Sarmiento de Panlilio, of how her husband Jose “Pepe” [ Joey’s grandfather ], an aristocratic bon vivant who always preferred the very latest in lifestyle fashions, “thoroughly disliked and was frankly embarrassed by those old, outmoded paintings” during the prewar and relegated them to obscure corners in the ancestral home in Bacolor, installing fashionable, framed large photographs and hand-colored “foto-oleos” in their place.
In the Buyson-Angeles ancestral home, the most social residence in Bacolor prelahar, hung a Simon Flores portrait of the distinguished patriarch, Julian Buyson y Cunanan of Baliuag, Bulacan.
The rich, Chinese mestizo-dominated town of Guagua, Pampanga was burned to the ground during the war. Most of the imposing “bahay na bato” mansions of the town’s richest citizens, both the Chinese and the Spanish mestizos — David, Limson, de Mesa, Valenzuela, Velez, Infante — lining the plaza were destroyed, and with them, what was surely a fine group of portraits and paintings by Simon Flores, for his wife, Simplicia Tambungui y Pineda, was a native of Guagua town.
There were also several Simon Flores portraits and paintings in the town of San Fernando. For starters, around 1875, three prosperous, landowning and trading Quiason y Cunanan brothers, Cirilo, Lucio, and Pablo, commissioned imposing family portraits from the artist. The most beautiful and elegant of the three was the one of the Cirilo Quiason family. Cirilo was painted with his wife Ceferina Henson y David, their second son Aureo, and third son Jose. It was painted in 1875 and Simon Flores charged 50 pesos a head in gold coins, totaling 200 pesos. Simon Flores sketched their faces in their home, brought their clothes to his house, and in a month he presented the finished painting to them. It was in poor condition when it was sold in the early 1980s by the Quiason descendants to Governor Jaime Laya on behalf of the Central Bank of the Philippines. On the other hand, Lucio or Pablo Quiason was depicted with his wife, daughters, and even mother-in-law in a rather cramped composition. It is now in the Leandro V. Locsin collection and was expertly repaired by the restorers of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The third Quiason family portrait is believed to be lost or to have been destroyed during the war.
In Porac town, Simon Flores painted the Spanish mestizo patriarch and wife of the rich Gil family [ whose descendants are the beautiful actresses and handsome actors Rosemarie Gil, Mark Gil, Michael de Mesa, and Cherie Gil ]. The portraits were lost postwar. In the “capilla” chapel of the house was Flores’ “La Virgen Maria,” his interpretation of an Italian Madonna. It was acquired by the architect-collector Luis Araneta who hung it over his bed; it was acquired from Araneta in the early 1980s by the ubercollector Paulino Que.
In the town of Mexico were many portraits and paintings by Simon Flores. I will never forget the Simon Flores portrait of the buck-teethed Saturnino Hizon y David, dressed in a blue and white striped “pina” barong; I could never get over his buck teeth which could have used the services of a good orthodontist. He married three times because he was widowed twice: first to Maria Cuison, then to Adriana Tizon, and finally to Cornelia Sison. His third wife was also painted by Simon Flores. The portraits, expensively restored, are now with Hizon descendants in Manila. Saturnino Hizon y David and his three wives had many children and many descendants. I remember seeing his very beautiful and exquisitely chased silver “platilla para buya” / “buyera,” marked “S H D ,” in the bedroom of an important Makati collector.
Also in Mexico town, Simon Flores painted a diminutive full-length portrait of the long-haired — as in floor length — Miguela Henson in front of her Isabelina-style dresser. It is now in the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas collection. I was always amused by the little portrait of Miguela Henson since she looked so much [ almost a carbon copy! ] like my Mommy’s good friend, Tita Belen Henson-Lazatin Garcia-Diokno [ a pioneering Filipina psychiatrist ], who, somewhere along the way, must also be a descendant of Miguela Henson through the Hizon-Henson-Lazatin line of Mexico town.
In the town of Santa Ana, Simon Flores painted the pretty Andrea Dayrit. Her portrait hung in the 1840s Dizon house, famous in its time for its late Neoclassical and English Regency architectural details.
In Arayat town, Simon Flores painted the Spanish mestizo hacendero Jose Berenguer y Flores and his wife Simona “Munit” Linares y Reyes; they are with Berenguer descendants in Manila. He also painted the Spanish mestizo hacendero Lino Cardenas Reyes and his wife Raymunda Soriano. “Capitan Lino” and “Capitana Munda” Reyes were famous in their time during the 1880s – 90s for their “fiestas” — elegant meals [ “desayuno,” “almuerzo,” “cena” ], “bailes,” and gambling — which lasted for weeks on end where the Spanish mestizo elite of Pampanga and Manila were invited [ remnants of their affluent life like Limoges china, Baccarat crystal, and silver “paliteras” toothpick trees in the form of birds amidst shrubs are still with Reyes descendants in San Francisco, USA ]. The Simon Flores portraits were destroyed when the Reyes-Soriano house in the poblacion burned down in the great fire that devastated Arayat in 1928, when all of the “bahay na bato” mansions lining its “Calle Real” were turned to ashes.
Adjacent to Arayat, in Candaba town, Simon Flores painted two doyennes of the “principalia” landowning class: the severe-looking Severina Ocampo de Arroyo and the corpulent Quintina Castor de Sadie, nicknamed “Fat Woman from Candaba.” They were in the collection of technocrat banker Manoling Dizon but he sold them to the Central Bank in the early 1980s because he wanted to concentrate on contemporary Filipino art.
In the southernmost town of Apalit, in the affluent barrio of Sulipan, Simon Flores executed several portrait commissions from the richest families in that town. In the Escaler-Sioco house, there was a pair of portraits of Matea Rodriguez y Tuason wearing a black “traje de mestiza” with considerable jewelry and her second husband Juan Arnedo Cruz y Tanjutco wearing a silver encrusted “salakot.” There was a portrait of her elder daughter Sabina Sioco y Rodriguez [ 1858 – 1950 ] as a young lady wearing a “traje de mestiza.” The three portraits disappeared in the early 1970s and presumed stolen and sold; they were supposedly brought to the Escaler hacienda in Barrio Cansinala but they disappeared while in transit. There was also a portrait of the Sioco progenitor Josef Sioco [ 1786 – 1864 ] in his 40s by an early painter, thought to be by Severino Flavier Pablo of Manila; it is with Gonzalez descendants in Manila. In the Arnedo-Sioco house, Flores painted the two daughters Maria Ignacia “Titay” [ 1872 – 1964 ] and Ines [ 1876 – 1954 ] as children wearing “traje de mestiza” in the 1880s. It disappeared in the mid-1960s and presumed stolen and sold. In the Gonzalez-Sioco house, there was a portrait of the matriarch Florencia Sioco y Rodriguez [ 1860 – 1925 ] as a young lady wearing a “traje de mestiza.” The portrait was destroyed when the house was bombed by the Americans in 1942.