signed and dated ‘Manansala 80’ (upper right)
oil on canvas
155 x 109 cm. (61 x 42 7/8 in.)
Painted in 1980
Commissioned by the original owner
Thence by descent to the present owner
Private Collection, Asia
Isabel A. Nazareno, Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc., Discovering Manansala, Philippines,  2005 (illustrated, p. 81, fig.91).
Sale room notice
Please note that Lot 27 has additional literature details.
拍品編號 27 附更多文獻詳情。

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

Lot Essay

This season, Christie’s is pleased to present this dynamic and dramatic work by Filipino modern master, Vicente Silva Manansala. Painted in 1980, about a year before his passing, Crucifixion (Lot 27) is one of Manansala’s later works that presents the Crucifixion theme in a cubist representation, and is the culmination of his years of artistic experimentation. This lot embodies Manansala’s innovation and technical prowess that sets him apart as one of the most revered and exceptional Filipino artists, an artist at the very pinnacle of Filipino modern art.

Manansala was born in 1910, at the dawn of the 20th Century; the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish and Philippine-American War had come to an end and a legacy of nationalistic sentiment permeated the art of the period through the classicistic pastoral genre scenes of Fernando Amorsolo. Manansala was spared from experiencing the hardships of his predecessors and nationalism was for him an ideology. As opposed to Amorsolo’s bucolic images of villages, Manansala was preoccupied with capturing his own reality: the spirit of compassion and verity in rural Philippines.

During his summer at the École des Beaux-Arts de Banff in Canada, Manansala was first introduced to Cubism by his teacher Joseph Plaskett; this would be one of the most formative moments in Manansala’s artistic education and come to shape his entire career as an artist. This acute fascination with the distortion of spatial depth and natural forms led him to investigate this technique further, and he eventually developed his own methodologies based on Cubism. Speaking about his methodology, he explains, “When I say I am a cubist, I mean that I have taken Cubism's basic elements, reorganized them and added my own, creating my own style.” Certainly, Manansala combined his facility in watercolour developed during his time in the Philippines with his newly discovered technique in what is now known to be his emblematic style of ‘transparent cubism’.

Crucifixion is the depiction of Christ on the cross – a subject matter that Manansala often visited within his oeuvre. The artist himself was a devout Catholic, whose own profound piety found its way to his canvases through the intense affection in which he painted religious subjects. For Manansala, this theme was an opportunity to “show the power of God in a silent manner, to express reverence and respect”, and Crucifixion perfectly embodies this personal philosophy. This work is an excellent example of Manansala’s late style: a combination of his iconic transparent cubism with the gestural expansiveness of his explorations into Abstract Expressionism marked by the 1950s and 60s. Unlike his earlier representations of the Crucifixion theme, which featured grieving figures of the Virgin Mary or John the Baptist, or even nondescript mourners, the figure of Christ on the cross is the sole subject of the painting and the focus of Manansala’s Crucifixion.

In this work, Manansala’s deep knowledge of the Cubist pictorial language is greatly demonstrated through a perfect balance of representation and structure. Modelling is simplified into multi-faceted geometric configurations that periodically dematerialise into transparency, constantly shifting and overlapping in a relationship of forms that nonetheless result in a wholly integrated composition. The work is highly detailed with fine planes intersecting one another in flurry of directions obscuring and revealing spatial depth in a way that frees him from reality, yet Manansala never loses sight of the figuration in the foreground. Colour plays a starring role in Crucifixion, the artist heightening the musculature of the body with fragmented, dense interlocking planes of vermilion, cobalt and even shards of viridian. There is almost a Fauvist tendency to his work, much like the paintings of the modern French master, Henri Émile- Benoît Matisse. Although Manansala’s works are often associated with the Cubist movement – and indeed, Cubism freed him from the necessity of representing forms in the traditional realist genres of painting, offering him a new way in which to articulate classical Filipino images; there is also a strong affinity with the emotionalism of the Fauvist movement that sets him apart from traditional Cubism, rendering Crucifixion more than just an execution of form. For Manansala, colour is a way to express an atmosphere and a mode of evoking the passionate religious sentiments associated with Christ, and its integral nature to the way of life in the Philippines.

In Crucifixion, it is clear that Manansala has reached a point in his artistic practice in which he paints with a sense of maturity and confidence, the impasto evidencing the looseness of his bush. His own unique visual vernacular and symbols intersperse the periphery of the canvas, manifesting as calligraphic gestures of drips and swirls of paint, much like that of Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning. In an earlier work of his, Birds of Paradise – although not entirely devoid of hierarchical distinctions or lacking in figuration – we see that there is a strong sense of abstraction and all-over composition of repetitive forms, as well as interwoven gestural splotches of paint which sees him borrowing techniques and from the Abstract Expressionist movement. However, the degree of ease in which he renders the strokes in Crucifixion is truly unusual for his typically restrained approach to painting, perhaps giving way to the strong feelings that Manansala had for the subject matter at hand. Despite his varied interests in differing styles and his constant endeavours into diverse artistic enterprises, Manansala continually maintained a balanced tension between representation and structure; for him, nature is a starting point from which he departs, distilling it into a palpable furore of shapes, brushstrokes or planes that always retains a sense of coherence.

Ultimately, Crucifixion finds itself alongside some of Manansala’s most salient and mature paintings, encapsulating the artist’s varied influence and the prevalence of a singular visual language that articulates and warmth and beauty that is unparalleled. His ability to bring a heightened sensitivity to his works through its dissection into variegated fractals establishes Manansala as a truly remarkable artist.

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