The Musicians

The Musicians
signed and dated 'Manansala 73' (upper right); inscribed 'To Abbott Lighter with best wishes Manansala 2 Oct 73' and 'J.A.Roxas musicians' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
101 x 137 cm. (39 3/4 x 54 in.)
Painted in 1973
Gift of the artist to the previous owner, Mr Abbott W. Lighter, a good friend of the late artist, in 1973.
Anon. sale; Christie’s Hong Kong, 30 November 2009, Lot 1181
Acquired from the above sale by the previous owner
Private Collection, Asia
Suwarno Wisetrotomo, A Collection of Important Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Paintings and Sculptures, Yacobus Mego Suryo, Singapore - Indonesia, 2016 (illustrated, p. 91).

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Annie Lee
Annie Lee

Lot Essay

The Musicians (Lot 35) is a perfect illustration of Manansala's deep knowledge of the Cubist pictorial vocabulary, his sensitivity to realist details and his adroitness in securing the point of perfect balance between representation and structure. The image of five musicians, identified by an inscription on the back of the canvas that reads 'J.A. Roxas Musicians' is dispersed throughout the picture surface realistically with the typical flair and imagination of the artist. It resolutely stays away from any overarching laws of Cubist pictorial compositions through its sense of depth. The depiction of a band of musicians marries the lyrical nature of the subject with the artist's visually pleasing Cubism, where images are transposed into geometric multifaceted forms on continually shifting and overlapping planes. Originally given as a gift by the artist to a close friend of his, the reverse bears a personal dedication from the master artist to his close friend Abbott W. Lighter.

A musical cadence flows through The Musicians, recalling an evocative quote of Manansala's - "I used bright colours and geometric shapes to create a melody" . Indeed, the painting is enlivened not only with the pleasing combination of form and a structure that supports and advances the adaptation of a Cubist vocabulary but it also is endowed with luminous shades of crimson, vermilion, cobalt blue, greenish yellow; each one of his colours bearing a light translucency that is the hallmark of Manansala's self-termed 'Transparent Cubism' which he adapted with wonderful skill to become a defining characteristic of his oeuvre. His paintings reveal the influence of this unique style and a remarkable understanding combined with a natural ability and adeptness with the watercolour medium. This first paved the way for Manansala's interest in the gentle nuances and gradations made possible by his mastery of the medium and with oil paintings, Manansala competently demonstrated the transference of a particular watercolourist sensitivity to canvas.

Picasso painted Les Demoiselles d' Avignon in 1907, three years before Manansala was born. It took another thirty-nine years before Manansala had a meaningful encounter with the revolutionary style. Cubism thenbecame the generating force of Manansala's mature works, the stylistic centre of his main oeuvres. It was not a master-follower relationship - it was like extending the premises of a tradition. Cubism did not curtail the dimension of Manansala's vision. He enriched the style and gave it a new context. Above all, he gave it a new sense of place". (Rudolf Paras-Perez, Manansala , Manila, 1980, p.75).

Undoubtedly, Cubism freed Manansala's vision from the genre tradition of direct transcription of nature as well as the supremacy of emotion of Abstract- Expressionism. It provided the artist with a visual idiom to continue working in the mode of figuration, yet while articulating new ways to record the Filipino images which remained one of the essential elements of cubist cubist works. For Manansala, Cubism did not necessitate a complete disfiguration, in place was a respect for the integrity of the natural forms of the subjects; only to be viewed from pluralistic perspectives. Manansala only retained realism in straightforward portraiture; his other works were soon to bear the hallmarks of Picasso, Braque, Gris, and Léger. In 1950, he was awarded a bursary by the French legation and spent some time at Léger's atelier, learning from the master himself. Eventually he abandoned their influences for the most part and devoted himself to developing his own cubist methodologies which permitted the flexibility and freedom to articulate a truly Filipino context. Like the Western cubist painters, he became fascinated with how geometric shapes could coherently develop a recognisable image, maintaining more expressionistic integrity than rendered by a purely realistic technique. In his own words, Manansala affirmed: "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."

Manansala's pictures of musicians find numerous counterparts in his Chromatic series, a sizable proportion dating to the 1970s: paintings such as Cumbancheros and Rock Musicians show the artist's marked interest in the subject. A number of these pictures are of solitary female subjects set in tranquil and almost rustic environs. The Musicians shares the basic tenet of a typical Manansala picture in the series - each one a soulful evocation of a scene and a brilliant encapsulation of the Philippine spirit.

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