"In my works I always celebrate the women of the Philippines. I regard them with deep admiration and they continue to inspire me - their movements and gestures, their expressions of happiness and frustration; their diligence and shortcomings; their joy of living. I know very well the strength, hard work and quiet dignity of Philippine women, for I am one of them."
- Anita Magsaysay-Ho
One of the leading modernist painters in the Philippines, as well as a pioneering female artist within mid-20th century Asian art, Anita Magsaysay-Ho possessed the rare gifts of an impeccable compositional technique combined with the flexibility to absorb and individualize new artistic influences. It was during her experimentations with modernism during the 1950s that Magsaysay-Ho found her true artistic calling, blending localized genre scenes with an almost geometrical sense of modern figuration. She was named one of the outstanding Filipino artists in 1958, and went on to be closely identified with the emerging school of Modernist art. She was the only woman to be named one of the Thirteen Moderns in Philippine art, and was at the forefront of the group which included the original Triumvirate consisting of Victorio Edades, Carlos Francisco and Galo Ocampo, and included Vicente Manansala, Cesar Legaspi, and Hernando R. Ocampo, and Nena Saguil, among others.
One of the most important influences in Magsaysay-Ho's artistic development was her teacher Kenneth Hayes Miller at the well-known Arts Students' League (ASL) in New York, who was the first to introduce Magsaysay-Ho to modernist concepts. Alfredo Roces comments: "Miller taught Anita to see the whole picture in an oil painting, sharpening her compositional sense. She learned to apply a sienna ground as the unifying element in a painting. He coached her to always begin with the dark portion on a painting, never with the bright portions. To relate the subject to the background, she was taught Miller's technique of interweaving dark and light areas so they 'hold each other'. Also from Miller... Anita learned the compositional device of painting women in pairs. This interaction between two or more figures remains a Magsaysay-Ho forte."
By the 1960s, Magsaysay-Ho’s brush strokes became more relaxed, with softer lines framing the figures she painted which became much more clearly articulated. In the 1970s, she spent a lot of time away from the Philippines, and her family and she were even sworn in as Canadian citizens. Her works in this period are warm and nostalgic recollections of women at work imbued with a strong sense of her artistic identity and expression.
Magsaysay-Ho reveals a distinct preference for depicting her beloved compatriots, the Philippine women who are portrayed variously in scenes of harvesting fruit, catching fish, or interacting within the marketplace. Magsaysay-Ho's females are sturdy village peasants, strong of limb and spirit. Her oeuvre on the female form is well collected and celebrated for their very representation of the beauty in women, which was her favourite subject. The present lot is an excellent example of her work from this period.
Gleaners features five peasant women gathering and gleaning spare grains of wheat after a harvest, perhaps referencing the similarly titled painting by Jean-Francois Millet. Perhaps staying true to the ideals of the painting by Millet - which invited so much controversy when it was first unveiled in Paris in 1857, with its sympathetic depiction of the rural classes, Anita’s women bear a solidity and strength that sets her figures apart from other genre scenes of the mid-20th century. Her depiction of Filipina women retain the warm affability and companionship synonymous with the pastoral Philippines. The women in the painting and their serene expressions afford the painting a quality of timelessness and transcendence. It gives forth a strong sense of community as well, typical of similar compositions within the region; the women working together in harmony, and the delicately painted earthy hues that permeate the entirety of the canvas suggesting a sense of lightness and warmth. The painting also highlights Magsaysay-Ho’s use of varying colours and textures, shading and contouring, displaying a meticulous attention to detail.
The shade of green commonly found in her work in the 70s symbolises a strong relationship between man and Nature, as can be seen by the wheat harvest in the painting, and the women, who could be regarded as workers of the earth. Strong modernist influences are showcased by the artist’s use of bold, decisive lines and simplification of forms; triangular kerchiefs tied around angular faces and the long necklines portraying the elegance of her depictions of womenfolk, yet all with a strong gestural quality. By striking a difference in the manner in which her women were portrayed, Magsaysay-Ho elevated the status of women using her art.