Tomato Pickers

Tomato Pickers
signed and dated 'Anita Magsaysay Ho 1975' (lower left); exhibition label affixed on the reverse
oil on canvas
91.5 x 76 cm. (36 1/4 x 29 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1975
Anon. sale, Christie's Hong Kong, 24 November 2013, Lot 149
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner
Private Collection, Asia
Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Anita Magsaysay-Ho: A Retrospective, Manila, Philippines, 1998 (illustrated, p.122).
Manila, Philippines, Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, A Retrospective, 15 December 1988-15 January 1989. 

Brought to you by

Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

In Tomato Pickers (Lot 10), Magsaysay-Ho has chosen as her subject matter a group of three labouring peasant women in the act of picking tomatoes. Unlike the romanticised depictions within the earlier generation of idyllic landscapes, such as those by the teacher of her youth Fernando Amorsolo, Magsaysay- Ho preferred the more gestural technique of the North American modernists, with whom she associated closely with in the 1940s during her time spent in America. Her women bear a solidity and strength that sets her figures apart from other genre scenes of the mid-20th century; however, they still retain the warm affability and companionship synonymous with the pastoral Philippines.

Widely recognised as 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.

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 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. The present lot is an excellent example of her work from this period.

A homage to the hardworking, nurturing Filipino women, whom she felt a strong personal affinity towards, Tomato Pickers features its subjects in a means that approaches the sculptural. Their varying postures remain elegant despite the physical strain of their task, and their serene expressions afford the painting a quality of timelessness and transcendence. The delicately rendered foliage in the foreground, together with the warm green hues that permeate the entirety of the canvas suggests a sense of lightness and warmth. What also sets the painting apart from other depictions in this ‘green period’ is the dabs of shamrock green paint impasto on the leaves of the plants, which lends a textural complexity to the painting’s surface which is otherwise rarely seen in her works from this period.

Emerging from Magsaysay-Ho's appreciation of the beauty to be found in the simplest of acts, Tomato Pickers is an exemplary work combining the artist's nostalgia for her home with her strong sense of artistic identity and expression. Tomato Pickers was painted in Hong Kong, when Magsaysay-Ho moved there in the mid-1970s to be with her husband. Undoubtedly the work combines her fondness for the Philippines with a certain sense of nostalgia at being an expatriate away from home; yet its vivid colours and overall uplifting nature speaks of a joyous period within the artist's life.

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