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From Amorsolo to Garibay: Milestone firsts at León’s Mid-Year Auction

Unprecedented selection, from pre-war to contemporary, represents PH history, including the token for Gen. MacArthur

Lot 94. Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972) 'Sabungero,' signed and dated 1914 (lower left); oil on canvas, 18" x 22" (46 cm x 56 cm).

Lot 51. From Eugenio Lopez Jr. collection, Hernando R. Ocampo (1911-1978) ‘Hat Weavers,’ signed and dated Manila 1940 (lower right); oil on canvas, 26 1/8″ x 32 5/8″ (66 cm x 82 cm)

León Gallery’s The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction (June 11, 2 p.m. Preview week from June 4 to June 10, 2022, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)  is especially notable for its selection of early and pivotal works by celebrated Filipino artists that bore a career-defining trademark or were simply coming-of-age.

The early works represent three distinctive periods in Philippine history: the pre-war, the post-war, and the contemporary eras.

Representing the glory of the pre-war years are Teodoro Buenaventura, Fernando Amorsolo and Hernando R. Ocampo.

The earliest, known-to-exist Sabungero by Fernando Amorsolo is in the Mid-Year Auction. Amorsolo was only in his early 20s when he painted it, a fresh graduate of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, where he was one of only five students to finish the course.

This rarity was given as a token of appreciation to Col. Charles Jacques, a staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, upon their arrival in Manila at the end of the Japanese Occupation.

Interestingly, last May 30 marked the 130th birth anniversary of Amorsolo. The timely Sabungero represents the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art” at his best—an exemplary vestige of genre painting.

Lot 12. Formerly from Don J. Antonio Araneta collection, Teodoro Buenaventura (1863-1950) ‘A Countryside Dawn’; signed and dated January 14, 1938 (lower right); oil on canvas, 20″ x 30″ (51 cm x 76 cm)

An early work by Teodoro Buenaventura titled A Countryside Dawn is among the artist’s surviving landscapes after World War II wreaked havoc on his extensive oeuvre. The piece was in the collection of Don J. Antonio Araneta and was in a photograph of Mr. and Mrs. J. Antonio Araneta’s Reception Room in Manuel Duldulao’s The Philippine Art Scene.

Three decades of informed collecting produced a rich priceless collection on the walls of the spacious residence of Mr. and Mrs. J. Antonio Araneta, with equally precious works left undisplayed in the bodega and closet. The house’s main reception room features the early paintings of Rivera y Mir, Pereira, Castañeda, and Buenaventura. The Buenaventura is on the left wall, center, topmost bottom. (From the auction catalog)

The Mid-Year Auction also features an early figurative work by Hernando R. Ocampo titled Hat Weavers— perhaps one of H.R. Ocampo’s most talked about and best documented works. It is found in numerous publications—both his biography and in the narrative of Philippine art. This is because it represents a pivotal period in his profession, both as writer and painter—and is a touchstone of an important time in Philippine national history.

Jonathan Beller, a revered American scholar and author of Acquiring Eyes: Philippine Visuality, Nationalist Struggle, and the World Media System, even featured Hat Weavers on the book cover.

Indeed, it is about that moment when Filipinos “acquired eyes” to see the socio-economic truth around them — and the Neo-Realism that was to come for H.R. after the war. “Acquiring eyes” is, therefore, a metaphor for social awareness as well as the finding of one’s national identity.

The post-war period is represented by the celebrated Modernists of the era. During this period, Modernism emerged, revolutionizing and radicalizing the Philippine art landscape.

‘It is my great honor to share an unprecedented number of magnificent pieces from those halcyon days of the 1950s and the 1960s’

“It is my great honor to share an unprecedented number of magnificent pieces from those halcyon days of the 1950s and the 1960s,” says gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon.

Lot 75. Formerly from the Jimena Austria collection, Arturo Luz (1926-2021) ‘Carnival Forms’, dated 1958; enamel on canvas, 22″ x 24″ (56 cm x 61 cm).

“Several are seminal works, beginning with Arturo Luz’s ‘Carnival Forms’ that would mark the start of a lifelong fascination with the circus and its shapes.”

The P.A.G. label indicating title, exhibit details, and price of P250 (From the auction catalog)

Carnival Forms was exhibited in the country’s first gallery dedicated to modern art, the Philippine Art Gallery, twice: first, on the year it was painted and the second during the Christmas season of 1959, from December 20 to January 10 of the following year.

Lot 57. Hugo Yonzon, Jr. (1924-1994) ‘Triptych of Philippine Country Life’: a) ‘Sabungeros’, signed and dated 1955 (lower right), oil on plywood, 54 1/6″ x 17 7 /8″ (138 cm x 45 cm); b) ‘Vendors’,  signed and dated 1955 (lower right), oil on plywood, 54″ x 18 1/8″ (137 cm x 46 cm); c) ‘Rice Planters’,  signed and dated 1955 (lower right), oil on plywood, 54″ x 17 7/8″ (137 cm x 45 cm)

A rare 1955 triptych by one of the leading Modernists to emerge from the post-war era, Hugo Yonzon Jr., features three scenes of Philippine country life—the sabungeros, vendors, and the rice planters. Remarkably, the piece is one of Yonzon Jr.’s earliest forays into Neo-Realism, and one which Santiago Albano Pilar described as “painted in the first authentically Filipino artistic expression.”

Lot 29. Galo Ocampo (1913-1985) Untitled (Flagellant Series), signed and dated 1952 (lower right), oil on canvas, 20″ x 16″ (51 cm x 41 cm)

Equally interesting is an early painting by Galo Ocampo from his poignant and highly allegorical Flagellant series of the 1950s.

Going towards the contemporary period is a work from inarguably one of the most prolific painters of our time: the highly acclaimed Emmanuel Garibay.

‘Garibay is an artist of his time when art, power, religion, and politics clash’

Lot 136. From Floy Quintos Collection, Emmanuel Garibay (b. 1962) ‘Black Saturday’, signed and dated 1998 (lower right), oil on canvas, restored by the artist himself in time for his 2013 retrospective, 72″ x 60″ (183 cm x 152 cm)

Garibay’s Black Saturday  encapsulates Rod Pattenten’s description of the artist’s brilliance: “Garibay is an artist of his time when art, power, religion, and politics clash.” This monumental work from Garibay’s early period was exhibited in his 1998 milestone solo exhibit at the old Pinto Gallery.

Lot 37. An Archaic Hagabi. Kiangan, Ifugao, 19th century. Narra wood with native repair. Length: 4 meters/13 feet 2 inches, height from floor to highest peak of the center bench: 19″ (48 cm), width of bench at widest point: 48 cm.

For collectors of tribal art and antiques, León Gallery offers an archaic Ifugao Hagabi, which Ponce de Leon referred to as “an archaic symbol of power and prestige.”

“The entire piece embodies traditional Ifugao design and sense of proportion, now burnished by the wear of traditional usage. Old, native repair shows that the two heads had once been cut off and then reattached, most probably when the piece was brought down from Ifugao to Manila in the early 1970s,” writes León consultant and antique experts Floy Quintos.

“This brings us to the most interesting part of the Hagabi’s history: Its provenance, which can be traced to three men who shaped the tastes and aspirations of future generations of Filipino Tribal Art collectors.”

Through his mother, an Ifugao woman, Ling-ngayu Gambuk, William acquired a wealth of valuable treasures from various Ifugao families

According to Quintos, this archaic Hagabi was first owned by collector/dealer William “Bill” Beyer, the son of American anthropologist and the Father of Philippine Anthropology, Henry Otley Beyer. Through his mother, an Ifugao woman from Amganad named Ling-ngayu Gambuk, William acquired a wealth of valuable treasures from various Ifugao families from the 1960s to the 1980s. Thus, he became the leading tribal art dealer of his time. Beyer is a seminal figure in Philippine tribal art.

Ramon Tapales, in the late 1970s, lounging on a Hagabi or Ifugao prestige bench, claimed by Bill Meyer as the largest ever found. Photo was taken in his home in Saint Ignatius village in Quezon City (Caption from the auction catalog)

William then lent this Hagabi to the National Museum of the Philippines in the early 1970s, eventually selling it to collector and a close friend and client, Ramon Tapales.

Quintos shares: “In his memoir, Provenance: Collections and Recollections, there is a photo of Tapales dating from the 1970s, showing him reclining on this Hagabi. “At that time,” remembers Tapales, “Bill claimed that this was the longest Hagabi he had ever bought in situ.”

Tapales later sold this Hagabi to his colleague, Angel Lontok Cruz.

“While many of Tapales’ prized possessions were dispersed among European and American collectors in the late ‘90s, the Angel Lontok Cruz collection of Ifugao art remains intact in Europe. Because of its sheer size, only this Hagabi has remained in the Philippines.

“Thus, this archaic Hagabi is both Artifact and Record. As an object, it embodies the highest standards of Ifugao traditional society. It is also a record of three men who first discovered the beauty of Ifugao art and made it their life-long passion.

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