Proclaimed as the 'Grand Old Man of Philippine Art', Fernando Cueto Amorsolo was the first artist to be conferred the title of the First National Artist of the Philippines. This award recognised Amorsolo's prolific legacy of beautifully romanticised landscapes of the archipelago's country sides, awash in the light of the heavens. It is often suggested that no Filipino artist has ever cemented himself so successfully into the popular consciousness as Fernando Amorsolo. His works adorn the walls of national museums and distinguished private collections, they are reproduced in calendar designs, posters, and postcards, and they have even inspired a host of aspirational copyists – a testimony to the prevalence of his works in his homeland.
Born in 1892, Amorsolo spent his childhood days in Daet, Camerines Sur, playing amidst the rice fields and abaca plantations of the countryside which would eventually inspire his most famous works. Acclaimed for his unsurpassed realist technique, he was strongly influenced by the Spanish masters of the preceding generation, including own uncle and mentor, the illustrious Fabian de la Rosa. Under de la Rosa's tutelage, Amorsolo acquired the rudiments of painting in the Spanish style, developing a mastery of portraying light and shade within a composition. In 1919, Amorsolo was sponsored by art connoisseur and patron Don Enrique Zobel to take on a period of study in Madrid. It was during this trip that Amorsolo immersed himself in the works of the creme de la creme of the Spanish School, interacting with the works of Velasquez, Goya, El Greco and Sorolla, to further refine his already formidable artistic technique.
The present selection of Amorosolo's works spans his entire career and showcases the development of his technique over time. Antipolo Market Scene (Lot 342) showcases the variety of life in the Philippines through a corner of the market. The soft colours ofhis palette reflect the cool, calm morning as the pale orange light of the rising sun streams in from behind the attap house. People of the community interact with a warmth and familiarity, highlight the importance the artist places on family as the bedrock of society. It is the calm before the storm, as the quiet morning will soon break into a bustling scene as the rest of the village awakes. The architectural details of the chapel in the background signifies the country's ties with colonial Spain, and almost transports the scene to the West if not for Amorsolo's insistence on painting individual faces with distinctly Filipino features.
Bathing by the Stream (Lot 341) displays Amorsolo's mastery of depicting the female form, rejecting Western ideals of beauty in favour of portrayals of the Filipino women with their full, round faces, bright and lively eyes, strong, blunt noses, and warm, tanned skin. Painting from live models that posed in his studio, and later filling in the background of the scenes with resplendent views of the natural Philippine landscape, Amorsolo sought to express the symbolic fertility of the country's rich landscape. This connection between man and nature is brought to fore in Planting Rice (Lot338) and Harvesting Rice (Lot 340) that highlights the physical nature of planting rice. Amorsolo presents a people sustained by their land in a symbiotic relationship, emphasising the importance of communal cohesion and man's place within the cycle of life. Landscape (Lot 339) was painted in 1931, and is one of the fewer works by Amorsolo that do not feature the Filipino people. Here, the focus is put on the tranquil oasis, hidden gem in the Filipino landscape. A provincial vista of lush foliage, a rippling pond under rich tropical sunlight, Amorsolo captures an intimate scene of the Philippines that existed within the heart and soul of his countrymen, unsullied by any realities of the human condition. The artist was fundamentally an idealist, genuinely desiring to portray the most beautiful aspects of his beloved country to immortalize these moments upon his canvas for generations to come.