Art/Style/Travel Diaries

‘Golden Period’ masterpieces of National Artists highlight Leon Gallery auction

Amorsolo, HR Ocampo, Manansala, Joya, Ang Kiukok, Alcuaz at their peak

Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972), 'Water Carrier,' signed and dated 1928, oil on canvas, 16" x 13" (41 cm x 33 cm)

Art collectors and connoisseurs are very much drawn to the “Golden Period” of an artist. The “Golden Period” represents the artist’s creative peak (and, in most instances, the commercial prime).

Generally, an artist’s golden age can be defined by the quality of the work. In a “golden period painting,” one sees the inherent refinement the artist has brought to his style, progressing from raw beginnings to maturation. A sense of harmony is found in the employment of colors, handling of light, manipulation of texture, skill in rendering forms, etc.

It is at this stage that an artist has found the artist’s distinct touch, unique iconography and style, the contribution to the arts, and eventually the legacy the artist is leaving behind.

In most cases, the golden period is seen from the market’s perspective, where collectors rave about the artist’s oeuvre, art shows sell out in minutes. Some collectors eventually form strong artist-patron bonds, eager to acquire at least one magnum opus that would be the centerpiece in their homes.

The golden periods of artists, arguably, represent the breadth and scope of Philippine art, serving as guide posts in a dynamic art scene.

Leon Gallery presents the legacies of six National Artists (Visual Arts) in The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2024 on June 8, 2p.m.

Six National Artists and their Golden Period paintings are the highlights of Leon’s mid-year event.

Fernando Amorsolo

A singular testament to Amorsolo’s dominance of the art scene during his Golden Period is the 1928 work Water Carrier, depicting a charming dalaga (maiden) carrying a banga. The composition is bathed in the warm exuberance of the Philippine sunlight. At the peak of his fame and creativity, Amorsolo uses the Philippine tropical sunlight as metaphor for the pastoral roots of Philippine society, where nature and agricultural life are at the center of indigenous knowledge and heritage.

Water Carrier was a testament to Amorsolo being the brightest star in Philippine art, if not the cultural scene itself, by the late 1920s. The 1928 issue of The Philippine Republic christened Amorsolo as “the country’s most famous painter,” featuring him alongside sculptor Guillermo Tolentino as “The Philippines’ Most Famous Artists.”

In his landmark 1975 monograph on the maestro, eminent art critic Alfredo Roces writes that “Amorsolo’s dominance of the local art scene had become almost total. He was something of a celebrity. He appeared in full-page advertisements…Poems were written in his honor. [He] was ubiquitous judge of [the Manila] Carnival beauty queen contests…When he first received public notice by winning a carnival poster design in 1913, the Daily Bulletin had referred to him as “Omorsolo,” while the Manila Times identified him as “Amarsolo,” but by 1928, his name was a national byword.”

From Dr. and Mrs. Jose San Gabriel collection,  Vicente Manansala (1910-1988), ‘Fruit Vendors’, signed and dated 1977 (upper left), oil on canvas, 34″ x 39″ (86 cm x 99 cm)

Vicente Manansala. © Leon Gallery Archives.

Vicente Manansala

From the conservative school, we now come to the bold Modernists of the post-war era. Vicente Manansala, master of an indigenized Cubism, is boldly represented by a solemn black-and-white 1977 painting titled Fruit Vendors.

From the collection of Manansala’s dear friend and doctor, the late Dr. Jose San Gabriel, Fruit Vendors is a valuable memento of Manansala’s prime decade. In the 1970s, Manansala was at the height of his artistic and commercial powers, when every Manansala exhibit would sell out in minutes. Sometimes his works would be bought even before the opening of the exhibit.

Manansala was the greatest Filipino painter of the 1970s. In a recent interview with Leon Gallery, leading art critic Cid Reyes said Manansala’s name was synonymous with Philippine modern art during that time. His “Transparent Cubism” had become a career-defining style, much loved by the people for his vibrant colors that echo the Filipino sensibility.

But Fruit Vendors is entirely in a black-and-white palette. In his 1973 interview with Reyes and published in Reyes’ landmark book, Conversations on Philippine Art, Manansala says that “black and white are more important than color,” for it brings out the inherent “valor of your painting…you can see the structure of the composition, the skeleton of the painting.” He cites his idol Picasso’s Guernica as prime example of a monochromatic composition that beat the brightly colored paintings of his peers.

Reyes said in the interview with Leon that Manansala very much loved doing black and white paintings since it brings him back to his illustrator days and to his “first love”—drawing.

Fruit Vendors was exhibited in a 2010 retrospective, Images of Nation: Vicente Manansala as Social Realist, at Ayala Museum to mark Manansala’s birth centennial.

Formerly from Dr. Tito and Elvira Manahan collection, Hernando R. Ocampo (1911 – 1978), ‘Sonata in Green,’ signed and dated 1969 (lower right), oil on canvas, 30″ x 40″ (76 cm x 102 cm)

Hernando R. Ocampo in his Maypajo home  © Leon Gallery Archives.

Hernando R. Ocampo

Another Neo-Realist and pioneering Modernist, Hernando R. Ocampo has his 1969 masterpiece Sonata in Green, formerly in the collection of society A-listers Dr. Constantino “Tito” Manahan and Elvira Ledesma-Manahan. When H.R. Ocampo painted Sonata in Green, he was at the height of his “Visual Melody Period.”

In a May 1972 interview with Cid Reyes, Ocampo described this period as “approximating the properties of music…I approach my paintings now as if they were chamber music, which, I suppose, one can consider pure music.”

Through Ocampo’s rendering of organic forms, music and painting come alive in unbridled harmony. Music weaves into the painting, both art forms uniting into a visual expression of resonating, philharmonic depth. Perhaps it was Ocampo’s visual articulation of a concerto that drew the exuberant Elvira Manahan—a true icon in Philippine arts, culture and entertainment industry, and in high society, and Dr. Tito Manahan, then the country’s leading doctor.

The Visual Melody Period is Ocampo at his most lyrical, making this period most coveted by collectors—and indeed, his most revered. Sonata in Green is one of Ocampo’s most documented works, a significant book piece appearing in numerous publications, including Manuel Duldulao’s landmark monograph Contemporary Philippine Art, the June 1974 issue of the CCP quarterly Pamana, and Nicanor Tiongson’s Artista ng Bayan.

Jose Joya. José Joya in his studio © Facebook, National Artist for Visual Arts 2003 Jose T. Joya.

The blockbuster opening night of Joya: New Paintings at the Luz Gallery, with Morning Mist, Hangchow hanging prominently on the right side. In the foreground are Amable Ocampo (artist Galo Ocampo’s son) and Virginia Flor-Agbayani, the “Grand Dame of Philippine Art Education.” Photo from The Struggle for Philippine Art (1974) by Purita Kalaw Ledesma and Amadis Ma. Guerrero.

Jose Joya

One of those the first-generation Modernists influenced was Jose Joya, the former dean of the UP College of Fine Arts. Like his Manansala, Joya achieved his peak in the 1970s, when he had his numerous appointments, blockbuster exhibitions, and travel and study grants abroad. Joya became the first Filipino visual artist to be granted the Rockefeller scholarship fund—in fact, twice successively: the John D. Rockefeller III Foundation grant in 1967, and the Ford Foundation Assistance in 1968.

Morning Mist, Hangchow, a product of Joya’s two-week visit to China in mid-1972 as chairperson of the Philippine First Educators’ Group Delegation, is a precious relic of Joya’s preeminence in the ‘70s. It was exhibited in a blockbuster Luz Gallery exhibition in 1973, attended by society’s crème de la crème, where he showcased oil paintings and debuted his career-defining acrylic collages. The work (and the exhibition where it was showcased) encapsulates Joya’s progression from abstract expressionism to geometric expressionism, propelled by an increasing Filipinism in his art that coincided with the resurgence of Filipino nationalism beginning in the late 1960s.

Iconography inspired by old coins, anting-anting, and pre-colonial articles, such as pottery shards and metal fragments excavated in archaeological sites, was Joya’s first answer to an increasing nationalistic impulse in his art. The shapes, which Joya considered as “rich in visual vocabulary,” and their seriality, evoke the dynamic rhythm of repetition and progression found in Philippine indigenous art.

Joya’s incorporation of indigenous elements (including the incised markings evoking old Philippine alphabets) proved to be the pinnacle of his artistic maturation. His integration and consolidation of various indigenous elements underscore not only his virtuosity but, more so, a heightened understanding of the collective cultural harmony in solidarity, as exemplified by his contiguous forms.

Lot 50, Ang Kiukok (1931-2005), Doors, signed and dated 1983 (upper left), oil on canvas, 45″ x 35″ (114 cm x 89 cm)

Ang Kiukok in his studio. © Distinctively Davao (Facebook page)

Ang Kiukok

The 1980s are dubbed Ang Kiukok’s “golden period” by art collectors and connoisseurs. Many of his works from this fruitful decade epitomize the evolution of his expressionist-cum-cubist vernacular, which he adopted in the mid-’60s and formally debuted in a solo exhibition at the Philippine Art Gallery in July 1966.

Ang’s works from the 1980s are some of his finest masterpieces, stemming from his decision in 1982 to limit his exhibitions to prevent excessive public exposure. This disturbed Ang as he deemed such excessiveness to lead to unrestrained commissions that would compromise the quality of his works. Ang wanted time and only time to satisfy a personal expression that has become a religion.

Ang continued delving into his expressionist cubist style from the 1970s to the 1980s, solidifying his own stature in the annals of Philippine art. This is a far cry from his early style, which critics deemed mere modernist reproductions hampered by limitations due to the lack of exposure to more dynamic artistic expressions outside the Philippine Modernist school.

The work offered in the Leon auction, titled Doors, from Ang’s golden period, encapsulates the artist’s profundity in wedding expressionist and cubist aspects. A sense of serenity, albeit with underlying agitation, exists, with deafening silence in an atmosphere of restless solitude. Vibrant yet somber colors add a layer, that breezy feeling, amid the severity of seclusion from the outside world. Ang’s use of multiple perspectives in a seemingly flat pictorial plane generates confusion and chaos, with the sharply delineated angles and stark lines producing forbidding stiffness.

Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (1932-2011), Untitled (Barcelona Series), signed and dated 1961 (lower left), oil on canvas, 26″ x 32″ (65 cm x 81 cm)

Federico Aguilar Alcuaz

Alcuaz’s Barcelona Period paintings (late ‘50s to the ‘60s) capture and marry the melodious sensibility of music with vivid impressions. Alcuaz enjoyed life-long affinity to music—he loved classical music and played the cello. His father, Mariano Aguilar, from whom he inherited the love of music, was a composer—an influence palpable in the 1961 work from Alcuaz’s much-coveted Barcelona Period.

The painting has two subjects superimposed on one another. The first depicts a quaint forest with lush trees and pristine river. The other shows houses lined up on a tranquil street in a suburban environment.

The work slowly reveals Alcuaz’s affinity to abstraction that veers away from the material and into the lyrical, enigmatic, and surreal. This Barcelona Period painting captures Alcuaz in his period of golden prosperity.

Leon Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon stresses this momentous occasion for Philippine art: “On behalf of Team Leon Gallery, we cordially ask for your company in our continuing endeavors to foster and promote the Filipino virtuoso. May our bond be made stronger by the powerful convictions for the arts.”

The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction is on June 8, 2024, 2 p.m., at Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Preview week is June 1 to June 7, 2024, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. For inquiries, email [email protected] or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com.

Follow León Gallery on their social media pages for timely updates: Facebook – www.facebook.com/leongallerymakati and Instagram @leongallerymakati.


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