The local art scene is still talking about the Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting, Tinapa Vendors, that sold for Ph84 million in last week’s Asian Cultural Council Auction at Leon Gallery. It set the world record for Magsaysay-Ho’s art and perhaps for Philippine art.
Just what explains this record-breaking amount? First, sources say that there’s truly a growing demand for Philippine art not only in the country, but also in Asia and beyond. Second, that astronomical price denotes how vibrant the local art scene is even in this pandemic.
However, the most evident reason seems to be that Tinapa Vendors is said to be the artist’s personal favorite among the market scenes she’s painted. It was owned by a foreign couple who became good friends with Anita and her husband Robert Ho.
“This painting was done in egg tempera and considered rare because the artist made very few works using said medium,” Jaime Ponce de Leon, the director of Leon Gallery, told TheDiarist.ph. (via text message).
“I personally think it was the Anita Magsaysay-Ho to have,” he added. “NO other Anita will have the distinction as the favorite market scene of the artist in her favorite medium! Most collectors who vied for the Anita already have Anitas of their own but collecting art reaches a different level when preferring quality to quantity becomes the objective. To have the best work separates one collection from the rest.”
Ponce de Leon described today’s local art scene: “The maturity of Filipino collectors has manifested in their quest to pay top prices over value buying. When one vies for quality, price never becomes an issue. Very few collectors ever attain the status of having the best. This Anita was purely a grand opportunity for anyone to belong to that rarefied echelon of collectors. A collector’s name should be associated with a piece of art that is unanimously agreed to be the best.
Ponce de Leon spoke for the collectors who people his auctions: “As Lord Joseph Duveen said, ‘When you pay high for priceless, you’re getting them cheap’.”
There were other newsmakers from Leon Gallery’s auction. Three of the most respected art collectors in Philippine art history once owned the much coveted Sorprendidos by Juan Luna which sold at Ph35 million. It has an allegorical take on love and marriage between the mestiza Paz Pardo de Tavera and the indio genius. This managed to capture the hearts of many collectors. The masterpiece has a sterling provenance—it has been documented to have been in the possession of Alfonso Ongpin, Luis Ma. Araneta and Arturo Rocha.
Luis Ma. Araneta assembled a magnificent art and antiques collection throughout his life. He was an avid collector of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo paintings and a large collection of antiques that churches have sold or discarded. One could say the same about Arturo Rocha, the bon vivant who led the fine life and with the best artworks, furniture, travels, cars and houses.
Alfonso Ongpin—Ongpin street in the heart of Chinatown, Manila, was named after his father, Roman—collected the works of Philippine masters of the 19th century and the contemporary artists of the 1950s. These artworks filled his house in Quiapo, some of which were included in the last auction.
Emilio Alvero was an artist friend of Ongpin and thus, wrote a personal note to the latter in the painting Nipa Hut which was done in 1925 and inscribed Manila. Alvero was a contemporary of Fernando Amorsolo at the UP School of Fine Arts and was known for realistic still life and rural scene. This was sold for more than Ph600,000.
The star lots included mid-century modern Vicente S. Manansala’s Pila sa Bigas which drew astounding Ph38 million. This masterful canvas was a commentary on the rice rationing during the 1970s. This was from the collection of the San Gabriels, the family of Manansala’s physician.
Views of Manila circa 1850 by Jose Honorato Lozano is a watercolor gallery of portraits of the old Manila long forgotten. Coming from the Benito J. Legarda collection, this work was commissioned in the 19th century by a New England trading house which had a satellite office in Manila. This was sold for Ph17 million.
Côte de Bretagne by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo went for Ph2.8 million and is representative of the early Filipino master’s attention to detail, his gentility and privileged life as a world traveler. He captured the European lifescape at leisure.
Side Show by H. R. Ocampo is a remarkable piece from the master colorist’s figurative phase, a more nationalistic and indignant period that came just after his incarceration and his wife’s demise. The work was sold for Ph9 million.
Dance of Isadora by BenCab was inspired by the famous dancer Isadora Duncan. The swirling fabric that enshrouds the body of the acclaimed American dancer conveys motion. The masterpiece drew a hefty Ph 40 million.
A total of 162 lots were put on the block. The Asian Cultural Council provides grants and scholarships to young and upcoming Filipino artists.