Philippine sceneries: Expressions of urban reality and the provincial idyll

Published November 22, 2022, 2:27 PM

by MB Lifestyle

These paintings depict how art shifts and evolves with the times

Philippine art is rife with depictions of both urban and rural sceneries, the styles and moods of which continue to change through the years. Movements in the art milieu, historical shifts, pop culture trends and an artist’s personal worldview are just some of the factors that influence how artists imagine the sceneries before them. How they are perceived evolve over time as well.

These changes are suitably demonstrated in a series of paintings from Salcedo Auctions’ forthcoming “Under the Tree: The Wish List” auction.

Fernando Amorsolo

Fernando Amorsolo’s Tinikling has a cast-iron provenance with a signed dedication to his daughter, Lina, at the back of the frame. It comes fresh to the market, barely changing hands in the past 82 years.  [Image : Salcedo Auctions]

The earliest work on sale is that of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s Tinikling—a fine sample of the artist’s paintings from his critically acclaimed pre-war phase, symbolic of Amorsolo’s strides towards impressionism and the pervading nationalistic trend. Completed in 1940, the artist’s composition still chimes with his idealized imagination of a provincial celebration. But its present owner (who purchased the piece directly from the artist’s daughter, being related by affinity) senses an underlying anxiety.

“There is a speed and urgency to the brushwork that perhaps reflects the turbulent atmosphere of the Philippines in 1940, with the Second World War just a year away,” the current owner says. “This impending threat is perhaps reflected in the violent intensity of the oranges, ochres and yellows of the ostensible sunset, which serves as backdrop to an otherwise bucolic scene. As a pre-war painting, the artist most likely used European paints sourced before the scarcity wrought by the war. Which accounts for the vibrancy of the coloring.”

Ronson Culibrina

Cultural Diversity Under the Mango Tree, oil on canvas, 2011, Ronson Culibrina [Image : Salcedo Auctions]

Ronson Culibrina, born 51 years after Tinikling’s completion, reworked Amorsolo’s folkloric composition in a painting titled Cultural Diversity Under the Mango Tree. He bridges the past to the present while making a cheeky commentary by inserting iconic pieces by international contemporary artists (Yayoi Kusama, KAWS, among them) to a traditional pastoral scene.

Oscar Zalameda

Untitled and undated oil on canvas by Oscar Zalameda [Image : Salcedo Auctions]

In contrast to Amorsolo’s work, Oscar Zalameda’s untitled painting of a rice field is almost devoid of details. Nevertheless, through vast plains of colors, he is able to convey a sense of a provincial idyll. Bright yellow patches suggest mature plantings ready for harvest with a trio of workers in the horizon, set against calm azure waters and a clear, summer sky.

Cesar Legaspi

: Barung-barong, watercolor on paper, 1992, Cesar Legaspi [Image : Salcedo Auctions]

National Artist Cesar Legaspi’s 1992 watercolor, Barung-barong, is another exquisite example of Philippine scenery. It is a tender composition with a humble hut as the focal point, framed with foliage and rendered in soft strokes to express Legaspi’s notion of a desirable atmosphere.  

Vicente Manansala and Manuel Rodriguez Sr.

Vicente Manansala’s untitled Quiapo scenery from 1956 has been hanging in the present owner’s sala for 50 years. [Image : Salcedo Auctions]
Jones Bridge, Pasig River, oil on canvas, Manuel Rodriguez Sr. [Image : Salcedo Auctions]

Although urban scenes are part of Philippine landscape’s history, they come few and far between, particularly during the postwar period.  There are two gems from Salcedo Auctions’ catalogue. The first, Manuel Rodriguez Sr.’s oil on canvas titled Jones Bridge, Pasig River, possibly dating from the late 50s to the early 60s, bears the heavy strokes of palette knife painting to convey Manila’s grit, while the colors express the city’s vibrance.

National Artist Vicente Manansala’s untitled tempera and ink work from 1956 portrays one of the streets in Quiapo, quite possibly R. Hidalgo. Its present owner inherited the painting from her architect brother who was a close friend of Manansala’s.

The work is exceedingly rare given its pre-transparent cubist style, which the artist later developed in his career. Its dimension is also unusual (at 13” x 51 ½“), a necessity given the artist’s intention of revealing the breadth of the street’s day-to-night commerce, including the nocturnal preoccupations of its resident palikeros. “Quiapo was the old “downtown,” the present owner says. “I was a young lady around the time the artist finished the painting, and I lived through those days.”

Salcedo Auctions’ “Under the Tree: The Wish List” preview is ongoing up to Nov. 25, Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at NEX Tower, 6786 Ayala Avenue, Makati City. View the catalogue and register to bid at or inquire via email ([email protected]) or phone +632-8-8230956 | +63917-5912191.

Words by Devi De Veyra