Lifestyle Business

Not a business venture, but a redemption

HINDSIGHT - Josefina T. Lichauco -

A new coffee-table book on the great Maestro Fernando C. Amorsolo, the late dean of Filipino masters, was launched on March 25. The 347-page book is, for quite a number of Amorsolo collectors, valuable in its timeliness because it is, in a sense, a redemption of the “Amorsolo Retrospective,” which was held a couple of months ago. The retrospective was an insufficient, superficial, unpremeditated attempt to depict the beauty, the grace and the nationalistic fervor that emanated from this artist’s hands, heart, mind and soul, and the historical significance of events through the years. 

I had gone to the Metropolitan Museum, the Vargas Museum, the National Museum and the Ayala Museum. My feelings as I went through all the paintings in each museum on various days was that the retrospective fell far short of what I had expected. An Amorsolo retrospective should be a review of the magnificence of the great artist’s work — not just showing the great master’s paintings. Fervent selection has to be undertaken, and there were quite a number of paintings that were so badly restored, it was a pain to even look at them.

I am not an art expert or critic by any means. I am an art lover and grew up with a father who loved art so deeply, especially his acquisitions, slowly but surely, of artworks and masterpieces of Fernando Amorsolo and Antonio Garcia Llamas. He loved talking about them and walking through them whenever I visited, even though a lot of times I’d hear the same anecdote over and over again.

I experienced the beauty and optic wonder of some of the most beautiful and meaningful works of art whenever we would have our Sunday family lunch. I discovered the magic of Amorsolo’s colors and the beauty of their intertwining hues. What I cannot forget is the manner in which my father directed the paintings to be hung — very delicately and meticulously — with my mother as his supportive onlooker.

He acquired a big Antonio Garcia Llamas oil on canvas, dated 1952, titled “Angelus,” depicting a farmer and his wife praying against the beautiful rays of the sunset. Because it had a family theme, he placed it in the center of the large living room of his home at a time when his family was multiplying by leaps and bounds. I remember him telling me that this particular painting deserved to be among his Amorsolos because it was a rare Garcia Llamas masterpiece.

When he finally acquired Resurrecion Hidalgo’s “Claire de Lune,” he said, “This is it. There is nothing more I would like to acquire.”

However, the Amorsolo paintings dominated his sense of interest and fascination. He particularly loved one oil on canvas, which is now with me, which Alfred Roces featured on a double-page spread in the first coffee-table book that Roces published in 1975. It is captioned “Afternoon Meal of the Rice Workers,” dated 1941. The painting won for the Maestro his first international award in New York in 1939. The one that was submitted to the competition has stayed with IBM, sponsor of the international exhibition.

When he came home after his victory, he made a first copy for the Philippines, with exactly the same figures and theme, in gentle hues of the sky showing the graceful manner the brown branches carried the leaves that provided the shade for a family cooking their meal on the farm.

At the “Retrospective,” I saw an oil painting dated 1938 in vivid colors of blue, green and red, and badly restored, carrying the same name. It is indeed true that Amorsolo would make copies of the same painting that he himself liked so much. But the way this painting had been restored was an insult to the optic and artistic genius that Amorsolo was. When I saw it at the Metropolitan Museum, I felt really sad.

And now comes a magnificent book of redemption: Maestro Fernando C. Amorsolo — Recollections of the Amorsolo Family. At the launch, one of his daughters, who is an artist herself and project director of the book, Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo, stated that her father once said that he wished there would be a book that could show his works. That’s when Alfredo Roces authored the book simply captioned Amorsolo published close to 35 years ago. This has never had a second edition and I have been informed that the book now costs about P20,000.

Sylvia Amorsolo Lazo, at the start of the program, gave a background of the years that went into this “quintessential” book, as Johnny Bondoc called it. Johnny is married to Cathy Amorsolo Cheng, granddaughter of Amorsolo.

Sylvia recalled that four decades ago, at the age of 77, her father was asked by Sylvia’s mother to check a built-in cabinet for termites. Being a meticulous person when it came to the arrangement of his belongings, the Maestro did as requested, found no pests, but instead he found a bulk of oil paintings, mostly bocetos, stored deep within the cabinet. According to Sylvia, “Papa realized he had forgotten about their existence and had kept them there since there was no more space on the walls.”

Sylvia said in her speech: “In another cabinet were albums of different thicknesses and sizes that contained his sketches from as early as the 1900s up to the 1960s. These were never shown to the public except to his close clients like Don Luis Araneta and Don Antonio Araneta, Don Andres Soriano, Don Anselmo Trinidad and Don Jorge Vargas.”

My late father, Anselmo Trinidad, as mentioned by Sylvia, was among those privileged to view these works. I can just see the sparkle in my dad’s eyes as he did so.

It had always been the plan of the Amorsolo family to publish another book after close to four decades ago. And people had become curious why there were a lot of books on other artists but not on the Maestro. The plan has always been there but the Amorsolo family was just too shy to approach people for financial help.

That’s where Dr. Mikee Romero came in. He offered to sponsor the project and thus the members of the Amorsolo family and the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation began work after years of developing the concept.

Romero, at 38 years of age, is good-looking, brainy and innovative. He is the youngest Amorsolo collector I know with already such a large and impressive collection. He said at the launch that the dream of the Amorsolo family has finally become a reality. Mikee delivered a speech and said precisely where the Amorsolo genius lay: “With a stroke of his brush and a mixture of his paints and colors you and I never even thought of or imagined to have existed — suddenly, the canvas becomes alive before our eyes!” Mikee called him “the colossal enigma in Philippine art….considered by many a hero, a legend and a champion of Philippine art and culture.”

This magnificent book was indeed a family effort. With Sylvia as project manager, her son Fernando as coordinator and photographer, Ma. Rowena Lazo Romero and Emma Amorsolo Castañeda as project assistants, Don and Edwin, both grandsons, who contributed articles, and having witnessed and met quite a number of the Maestro’s progeny, it must have been one great family adventure.

Sylvia says now that luckily, her father’s weakness was photography. He loved to be photographed mostly with his family and his works. And as they went through his memorabilia, they were able to collect black and white photos of him with his various paintings, from still life to landscapes and portraits.

They could see how prolific an artist he was with the many sketches he left behind for his family which included his early works as a student in Spain, pen and ink studies for the Philippine Reader’s Book, studies as references for his compositions on his watercolor paintings for the Manila Carnival, together with a catalogue of his oil paintings, portraits of significant people, historical and war paintings, rural scenes, and nude subjects quite a number of them made possible through the support of the collectors.

The publication of coffee-table books can be a profitable money-making business. In this family adventure towards its launch just a couple of weeks ago, it was never meant to be so. It is not even available at bookstores yet. Should anyone be interested in inquiring about the book, Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo can be reached at 749-5271, and her daughter Winnie Lazo-Romero at 647-9210.

What it was for everyone in Maestro Fernando Cueto Amorsolo’s family was an adventure of nostalgia and love. It displayed with great majesty the inner sanctum of his life.

For me, the book is a magnificent redemption of a superficial “Amorsolo Retrospective.” It could not have come at a better time.

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