A year of changes
By Jose Ostonal
Despite the lull in business activity as a result of the pandemic, the art auction scene has managed to survive and even thrive. Leading auction house León Gallery will close the year with its annual last-quarter “Kingly Treasures Auction” on Nov. 28 with works by old masters such as Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fabian de la Rosa, and Fernando Amorsolo as highlights.
The auction will cap an “unforgettable year,” said León Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon.
“I find myself in awe at the events that have made this year one of the most unforgettable. I can only describe it as a year of changes: Changes in the way we view art as well as changes in the manner to make it accessible.”
“It has also been a year of passages, of the passing of the torch from one generation of artists to another, and from one breed of collectors to the next,” he added. “Reflecting these many changes are the treasures we have once again assembled.”
First on the roster is a lovely Normandy landscape by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1855-1913), once the property of Philippine Commonwealth official Bibiano Meer, who passed it down to his son, Antonio “Tony” Meer. Meer was legal counsel for many of Manila’s ruling class, including “the Cojuangcos, Aranetas, Osmeñas, Madrigals, Palancas, and other key figures of the country’s social, political, and economic elite in the last half of the 20th century,” according to one newspaper account. Along with Ramon Cojuangco and Tirso Rivilla, he founded the telecoms giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co.
A Farmhouse in Normandy, the Hidalgo painting to be bid out, would have been a familiar sight to the Filipino ilustrados on a quick getaway to the French countryside from Paris, said Ponce de Leon.
Hidalgo went to the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura, where Fabian de la Rosa y Cueto (1869-1937) also trained. The school became one of the units that became the school of fine arts of the University of the Philippines, where De la Rosa became the inaugural director. Two related auction lots are watercolor paintings of Philippine women in traditional dresses, signed and dated 1922, with starting bids of P1.2 million each.
Another auction favorite, De la Rosa’s nephew and student Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, is represented by several paintings, among which is Lavenderas (Washerwomen), painted along the romanticist style of his uncle.
“Fernando Amorsolo is often considered the spiritual heir of the 19th century masters, and he is once more represented in several rare artworks,” said Ponce de Leon.
Taking over from Amorsolo would be the mid-century moderns, who are represented in the auction by a number of remarkable works from the original Neo-Realists, Hernando R. Ocampo (1911-1978), Cesar Legaspi (1917-1994), and Nena Saguil (1914-1994).
A particularly entrancing H.R. Ocampo work is Tempo rubato. This striking work from 1949 refers to time lost. The artist-writer was taken into custody by the American counterintelligence after Manila was liberated. While incarcerated, he lost his wife. Could this piece refer to those war years and its devastating aftermath?
Legaspi’s bold explorations are shown in two striking works, Miners and Couple. A member of the elite Thirteen Moderns, Legaspi rendered his subjects in his recognizable forms that melded representation and abstraction.
Ocampo and Legaspi were named national artists for the visual arts posthumously in 1990 and 1991.
A fellow mid-century modern, Fernando Zobel, is represented by several magnificent works of impeccable foreign provenance, said Ponce de Leon. Striking works punctuate the riveting abstract offerings, including an intriguing 1967 work, Icaro.
Atardecer en la curva… (Sunset at the curve…), on the other hand, presents Zobel’s complex formalism. This piece was a gift to the Lowenthal family of New York and was created after his equally sought-after Serie Negra series.
Late abstract master Romulo Olazo’s Diaphanous No. 667 displays this foremost abstractionist’s alluring fusion of refined light and transparency. This masterpiece exudes calming gossamer colors and overlapping luminous shapes in resonant ethereality.
National Artist Jose Joya once again showcases his lyrical and poetic sensibilities as he produces dynamic abstract compositions.
A major piece by Joya, Untitled, captures emotional immediacy through rendered surface textures and use of both carmine and earth colors. Joya’s attention to textures is highly evident with his gestural brushstrokes, a testament to his indisputable legacy as an abstract expressionist.
Ponce de Leon expressed pride at the varied and outstanding auction lots. “In the world of art, as the saying goes, the more the things change, the more they remain the same,” said Ponce de Leon. “Beautiful artworks, after all, are always eternal.”
León Gallery’s Kingly Treasures Auction is set for Nov. 28, 2 p.m., at Eurovilla I, Legazpi and Rufino Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati.