Important works by pillars of Philippine modernism at Salcedo Auctions

Alfonso Ossorio, Fernando Zobel and Lee Aguinaldo: Important Works by Pillars of Philippine Modernism at Salcedo Auctions’ June 15 sale

By Devi De Veyra

At Salcedo Auctions’ upcoming "Finer Pursuits" auction on Saturday, June 15, three masterpieces by Philippine art giants Fernando Zobel, Alfonso Ossorio and Leopold “Lee” Aguinaldo encapsulate the vigor of the post-war period when modernists started the push back against the constricts of traditional painting. All three were completed from the early sixties to the late seventies, a golden time not just for the artists, but for the art landscape as a whole. 

“Fat & Thin” from 1962 by Alfonso Ossorio, “congregation” of mixed media on panel with artist’s original frame, 25 ½ x 19 ¾ inches, estimated at P5,500,000 to P6,500,000; originally from the prestigious Daniel Cordier collection, Paris.

Though all three share a privileged upbringing, Zobel, Ossorio and Aguinaldo took their art to different directions. Ossorio, born to sugar wealth in 1916, spent much of his adult years in New York, counting some of the most heralded American abstractionists (like Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and Joseph Glasco) as his friends who also influenced his painting style. His work listed in Salcedo Auctions’ ‘Finer Pursuits’ catalogue, however, displays his later leanings toward the French artist Jean Dubuffet’s art brut movement, a heady composition of found objects from his “congregation series” humorously titled “Fat & Thin.”

 A book piece, “Invierno en Sevilla IV,” a 1977 oil on canvas by Fernando Zóbel, 5 3/4 x 27 1/2 inches, estimated at P7,500,000 to P8,000,000

Zobel was born in the Philippines (just like Ossorio) in 1924, the scion of pioneering industrialist Enrique Zobel de Ayala who was sent to Harvard for further studies. His early preoccupation with figurative paintings comes from his exposure to the Boston School before shifting his attention to Chinese and Japanese calligraphy upon returning to the Philippines in the 1950s. His painting from 1977, “Invierno en Sevilla IV” bears some similarities to the elegance of the calligraphic lines, set off against a serene vastness to suggest a wintry landscape.  

Painting in Green No. 2,” 1963 oil on canvas by Lee Aguinaldo, 32 x 31 inches, estimated at P3,500,000 to P4,500,000; this piece was acquired directly from the artist by Ron Taft after an introduction by Mark Rothko’s nephew, Ken Rabin.

Born in 1933 in New York, Aguinaldo would eventually return to the Philippines to resume his art making, with Zobel mentoring him for a time. He explored art’s myriad veins, influenced by American modern art’s legends like Jackson Pollock, Robert Rauschenberg and Mark Rothko. By coincidence, Aguinaldo’s work up for bidding,  “Painting in Green No. 2” from 1963, has an interesting link to Rothko. Its previous owner, Ron Taft, was actually introduced to Aguinaldo by Ken Rabin, the American abstractionist’s nephew. 

Presented with Metrobank, "The Finer Pursuits" live and online auction will take place on June 15, 2024, starting at 2 p.m. The online catalogue is available at In-person preview runs from June 7 to 14 June at NEX Tower, 6786 Ayala Avenue, Makati City, from 9 a.m to 6 p.m.