El Ciego

El Ciego
signed 'F. Amorsolo, Manila 1929' (lower right)
oil on board
73.5 x 58.5 cm. (28 7/8 x 23 in.)
Painted in 1929
Acquired directly from the artist by Lt Commander Samuel J. Wilson
Thence by descent to the previous owner
Acquired directly from the above owner
Private Collection, Germany
Lisa Ito (Ed), Maestro Fernando C. Amorsolo: Recollections of the Amorsolo Family, 2009 (illustrated, pp.139)
Alfredo R. Roces, Amorsolo (1892 – 1972), 1975 (illustrated, pp.86).
Krip Yuson (Ed), Amorsolo: Love and Passion, Volume I: Portraits, 2017 (illustrated, pp. 124 – 125).

Brought to you by

Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

Lot Essay

This season, Christie’s is pleased to present El Ciego (Lot 9), an extremely rare masterpiece work by Filipino Modern Master, Fernando Cueto Amorsolo. Amorsolo is known primarily for his vibrantly coloured romantic genre scenes of young Filipina women amid the bucolic landscapes of the Philippine countryside, caught amid their daily tasks among the rice fields and participating in rural community traditional activities. El Ciego , on the other hand, is a masterpiece that captures an intrinsic part of the Filipino culture: its people and their love of music. Unlike most of his other works set in the lush countryside, El Ciego is an interior scene of a blind man gently strumming a guitar as a woman leans in towards him with an adoring gaze. The two figures are bathed in a warm golden evanescence of variegated rich brown tones that are characteristic of his earlier work such as Old Woman, and a feature that showcases his masterful use of light for which he is most celebrated. Amorsolo was a nationalist at heart, often striving to immortalise the most beautiful aspects of his country in the most dramatic way possible, and El Ciego is an exceptional example of that; despite the blindness of the guitarist, Amorsolo uses a tightly framed composition with a chiaroscuro effect to draw the viewer’s attention to the heart-warming relationship between the girl and the guitarist. As viewers, we are made privy to a private moment between the two figures, lost in the moment; much like the fly-on-the-wall compositional technique employed by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez in Dos jóvenes a la mesa , where two young men are intimately engaged with one other, that they do not notice our gaze. There is no political agenda hidden behind the work, but a purity and sense of communion between the two figures through music that captures the community and bond shared between his countrymen.

Amorsolo studied under his uncle and celebrated painter, Fabian de la Rosa, from whom he acquired the elements of Spanish style painting, and was the pioneer artist to be conferred the title of the First National Artist of the Philippines. His works display the influence of works by great masters of the Spanish School such as Goya, Velasquez, El Greco and Sorolla, of which he encountered during a period of study in Madrid, sponsored by art connoisseur and supporter Don Enrique Zobel. Much like de la Rosa, Amorsolo was accomplished in portraiture and genre scenes, elevating the quotidian through his skill with the brush into glorious glistening vistas of lush tropical landscapes and rice fields among which his noble figures worked and reveled with joie de vivre.

Acclaimed for his singular realist technique, Amorsolo was especially popular with art patrons during the years of American occupation. This particular masterpiece was acquired by Lt. Commander Samuel J. Wilson, who in World War II, served with the American army in the Philippines during the campaign against the Japanese forces and was one of the few navy officers to be awarded the army’s Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. Samuel J. Wilson was president of a publishing house in Manila and served in the United States Navy Reserve before the war. He was called to active duty upon the bombing of Pearl Harbour on 7 December, 1941, and was sent to Corregidor and Mindanao, tasked with setting up a Printing Office to produce currency for the Philippine government. During the Japanese invasion of Mindanao, Lt. Commander Wilson left to join the Bukidon tribe in the town of Tulagak. However, his presence was discovered and he left for the lowlands, where he served with a guerrilla group organised by an American army officer in the Misamis Occidental mountains. The painting Lt. Commander Samuel J. Wilson, Guerrilla Leader by Amorsolo, which was a gift to Lt. Commander Wilson from General McArthur, depicts the Lt. Commander standing guard with a rifle alongside a tribesman armed with a spear, while in the background women gather and prepare food – the stark contrast between the everyday tasks being carried out by the women and the arms bared by the men is a reminder of the volatile nature of life during that period.

Amorsolo often re-visited his subjects, repainting them incessantly with merely the slightest of variations. El Ciego follows similarly, with this lot being the largest of three iterations of the subject matter painted by the artist. Produced within what is widely considered to be his golden period, El Ciego is Amorsolo at one of his best, capturing the smallest of details with breath-taking clarity: the worn weathered hands of the blind guitarist, the distinct creases in his shirt, even the veins of the thatched leaf of the nipa palm in the background are reflected in this masterpiece. Amorsolo immortalises this intimate scene in El Ciego, truly encapsulating in his inimitable visual language, the essential virtues of the Filipino people.

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