The development of Modern Filipino Art
If Juan Luna (1857-1899) and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1853-1913) represent the highest levels of achievement in the Filipino Academism while epitomizing colonial art in the Philippines, then Fabian de La Rosa (1869-1937) and Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972) can be considered to be the masters of genre who dominated the Filipino art scene during the first half of the 20th century, and thereby assuming the role of the crucial link in the development of art from academism to modernism. A glimpse of the rich body of works left behind by the two genre masters provides a good understanding of the rich heritage enjoyed by the contemporary Filipino artists, many of whom developed and adapted ideas from the early fathers.
After Luna, Fabian de la Rosa is often considered the brightest name in Filipino painting and certainly the most important for the first quarter of the century. He was a mentor to the much celebrated Amorsolo. Both were undoubtedly classicists at heart and here we find the strongest affinity between them, and between Luna and Hidalgo. The core of their art is skilled draughtmanship as well as a balance and austere palette. Their subject-matters reveal the same preoccupation with rural activities of the peasantry, beautiful landscapes of the Philippines and the celebration of Filipino beauties.
The Tree (lot 60) painted in Rome in 1909, was executed when de la Rosa was pursuing his art studies at the Academy Julien in Paris. The artist's tendency towards impressionism is evident from the way he applied colours directly onto the canvas with only a hint of palette mixing. Although Tree is lacking in the skilled rendering of the effects of light as seen in the artist's better known work Planting Rice, the present lot, nevertheless displays a sombre tonality which is in accordance with de la Rosa's classical training which he received from Simon Flores de la Rosa.
When Fernando Amorsolo succeeded Fabian de la Rosa as director of the U.P. School of Fine Arts, he also succeeded the tradition of genre painting and to a large extent carried it to its golden age. In the 1960s he witnessed its decline which was manifested in the heated debate and criticism against genre painting. By no sheer coincidence, Amorsolo's representational piece is also a depiction of a rice planting scene which consists all the quintessential elements of genre: idealized beauties, cheerful children, sunlight filtering through the thick tropical foliage, water reflecting extraordinary light; these were the subjects which won Amorsolo the uncontestable position as the chief proponent of genre as well as the title, Master of light. The tremendous commercial success enjoyed by Amorsolo enticed followers who did blind imitation of the master.
It has been commented that: it is hard to believe that a man so mild-mannered as Amorsolo could be so influential and spark such rebellion among artists of his time. Indeed the prevalence of genre painting sparked off an extreme reaction, a movement championed by Victorio Edades (1895-1985) who is commonly regarded as the "Father of Modern Philippines Painting". Edades who was trained in the United States in the first quarter of the century, returned to Manila in 1928 to mount his controversial show at the Philippines Columbian Club. Many now regard the exhibition as the commencement of modern art in Phillipines, as the artist forcefully depicted labourers building the city in a detached and almost cold manner. This is a clear deviation from the idyllic scenes of farmers planting rice and beauties bathing by the river.
Edades verbalised his ideals: "To find pleasure in the visible qualities of even the commonest objects of everyday life, to use colour structurally, to investigate every department of our environment which we directly experience; and to blend and integrate all of our impressions with our Oriental heritage and our traditional Christian culture - these are profound lessons with which the great Modern Art movement is inspiring our progressive artists." (Victoria Edades, Liberating Ourselves from Academism, in This Week, September 19, 1948.) Edades actualised principles not just with his works but began actively organising modern Filipino artists into a cohesive unit which he called the Atelier of Modern Art. This initial effort would be the progenitor of the Thirteen Moderns which involved the forerunning Triumvirate of Edades, Galo Ocampo and Carlos Botong Francisco and the others: Arsenio Capili, Bonifacio Cristobal, Demetrio Diego, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Cesar Legaspi, Vincente Manasala, H.R. Ocampo, Jose Pardo, Ricarte Puruganan and Diosdado Lorenzo.
History was about to be made as the group would take the development of Filipino art through the rise of Neo-Realism and with the attainment of its maturity, would bloom into a period of multi-pluralism. The placements of Lots 60 - 64 was arranged in a deliberate chronological order to trace the development of Filipino art in a capsule. While 5 paintings could hardly justify the richness, diversity and complexity of the movement it would nevertheless shed some light on the ingenuity of Filipino artists.