ROMEO TABUENA (Filipino, 1921-2015)


signed and dated 'TABUENA 1959' (lower right)
acrylic on board
61 x 90 cm. (24 x 35 3/8 in.)
Painted in 1959
Acquired directly from the artist
Private Collection, Mexico

Brought to you by

Joyce Chan
Joyce Chan

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Lot Essay

Romeo Tabuena is best known for his depictions of local landscapes such as farms, carabaonipa huts in oil and watercolor formats. Often rendered in jewel-toned colors and interlocking cubist-influenced shapes, his earlier works maintain a sense of translucency and fluid form while those from his later "Mexican" period are more opaque and have a stylized "blocky" quality which brings to mind the abstract works of another counterpart, H R Ocampo and the aesthetic of Mexican muralists. 

With its tightly framed composition and characteristically bright palette, Fiesta (Lot 540) presents a scene full of the vitality and atmosphere of a lively street festival in the Philippines. Colourful streamers line the upper background of the painting, and Tabuena invites the viewer to bask in the warmth of a communal celebration.

Still life paintings were one of Tabuena’s favoured subjects, and Guitar and Fruit (Lot 541) is painted in the iconic style of the artist. A work that features the flattened perspective often seen in works by modern master Cézanne, Tabuena adds distinctively Filipino tropical fruit to brighten the composition. Tabuena’s paintings always achieve in conveying a sense of familiarity and connection with the viewer, and here the skilful depiction of a still life scene evokes the domestic warmth of a loving home.

Mother and Child (Lot 542) plays on the iconography of the strong tradition of Catholic faith in the Philippines. The maternal figure wears a delicate hood and is clothed in a light blue top – both signifiers of Mother Mary. The figures are drawn with a surety and lightness that lends an elegance to their postures. Combined with Tabuena’s sensitive treatment of colour and shade to suggest shadow and depth, the work is a rare and tender representation of another much-loved theme in the artist’s career.

An early work from the artist, Three Beggars (Lot 543) shows a seldom-seen perspective in Tabuena’s work. While we are used to the artist’s lively scenes and warm palettes, Tabuena demonstrates here his ability to evoke gravitas, and a darker, more dramatic tone in his works. The faces of the three figures are defined in sharp angular lines, a true rarity amongst his later works that presented figures as flatter and sometimes featureless via his unique style of abstraction. The melancholy green and grey shades of the painting add a poignancy to the mood, and is a work that expresses the artist’s strong empathy for those in less advantageous positions in life.

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