The Controversial Paintings of Amorsolo and Luna
I had a rewarding day last week when I accompanied my daughter during her educational trip. Every year, schools here in the Philippines organize educational trips for their students. One of the sites we visited was the GSIS Museum of Art in Pasay City, Philippines. There were several exhibits displayed in the museum and the exhibits that attracted me among others were the paintings of Fernando Amorsolo and Juan Luna. It was the first time that I saw these authentic works of art of these painters. As I look closely to each painting, it was indeed a masterpiece.
Fernando Cueto Amorsolo is a Filipino painter and known as “The Painter of Philippine Sunlight” because his works capture the brilliance of the Philippine sun. Amorsolo paints from within the Filipino values, character and soul. He draws his inspiration from the life of ordinary people portraying their industry, integrity and resilience. His pastoral works presented an imagined sense of nationhood in counterpoint to American colonial rule and were important to the formation of Filipino national identity. He painted a series of historical paintings on pre-colonial and Spanish colonization periods. His typical pastoral scenes were replaced during World War II, Japanese Occupation of the Philippines. This time he presented destruction, pain, tragedy, death and sufferings experienced by the Filipino people on his paintings. Fernando Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Manila when the Philippines was still under Spanish sovereignty. He died on April 26, 1972 at the age of 79.
His Styles and Techniques
Amorsolo is an incessant sketch artist.The artistic trademark of Amorsolo and his greatest contribution to Philippine painting is the backlighting technique. In a typical Amorsolo painting, figures are outlined against a characteristic glow, and intense light on one part of the canvas highlights nearby details.
The volume of paintings, sketches and studies of Amorsolo is believed to have reached more 10,000 pieces. He was an important influence on contemporary Filipino art and artists. His art speaks well of the different events in the Philippine history as presented in his major works like, Sunset: The Return of the Fisherman (1939), the Afternoon Meal of the Workers (1939), Assassination of Gov. Bustamante , Bataan (Historical place), The Bombing of Intendencia (1942), The Building of Intramuros, Burning of the Idol, The Burning of Manila (1949), El Ciego (The Blind Man) (1928), The Conversion of the Filipinos ( 1931), Corner of Hell, Dalagang Bukid (1936), Defense of a Filipina Woman’s Honor (1945), The Destruction of Manila by the savage Japanese, Early Filipino State Wedding, Early Sulu Wedding, The Explosion (1944), The First Baptism in the Philippines, The First Mass in the Philippines, Maiden in a Stream (1921), The Making of Philippine Flag, The Mestiza (1943), My Wife Salud (1920), One Casualty, Our Lady of Light (1950), Planting Rice(1946), Princess Urduja, The Rape of Manila (1942), Rice Planting (1922), Sale of Panay, Sikatuna, Sunday Morning Going to Town (1958), Traders, and the El Violinista (The Violinist).
Furthermore, three of Amorsolo paintings are, at this present day, displayed at Vatican City, Rome. One at the headquarter of the Vatican radio and the other two at the Propaganda Fide. Propaganda Fide is a congregation involved in missionary works and related missionary initiatives. Having the Amorsolo painting at the Propaganda Fide highlights the special missionary contributions of the Philippine Church in spreading the faith to other nations. He may not be as famous as Michael Angelo, Rafael, Caravaggio and Fra Angelico but this should be another source of honor and pride for Filipinos.
Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892-1972) GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Juan Luna Y Novicio is another Filipino painter. A political activist of the Philippine revolution during the late 19th century. He is the first recognized Filipino artist during his time.Luna painted literary and historical scenes, some with an underscore of
political commentary. His allegorical works were inspired with
classical balance, and often showed figures in theatrical poses.Luna is great artist during his time. He was the first recipient of three gold medals awarded in exhibition in 1884 in Madrid. In 1887 he went back to Spain and won again in the Exposition.
Juan Luna came from a rich family. He was one of those rich boys like Jose Rizal (Philippine National Hero) who had the financial capability to take formal or higher education in other countries. He could have contributed more in the Philippine art history but unfortunately he died at a young age of 38. He was born in 1861 and died of heart attack in 1899. In 1925, Juan Luna was reinstated as a world renowned artist and Peuple et Rois.His last major work, was acclaimed the best entry to the Universal Exposition of St. Louis in the United States. Unfortunately some of his paintings were destroyed by fire in World War II. He is recognized not only as an artist but as well as a hero in the Philippine history.
Luna is remembered for a handful of paintings. Some of his historical works are “Spoliarium”and “Pacto de
Sangre” [“Blood Compact”]. There are allegorical paintings of Luna such as “España y Filipinas”,the “La Bulaqueña” or “Una Bulaqueña and the "Parisian Life".
Juan Luna Y Novicio GalleryClick thumbnail to view full-size
Finally, what makes these paintings controversial then?
So, here is the story...Three paintings were bought by GSIS (Government Services Insurance System) government officials for its Art Museum sometime in October of 2002 from an auction is Hongkong for 53.5 million pesos. Two of these paintings are the arts of Amorsolo entitled " Under the Mango Tree" and " Rice Fields". The other one is the painting of Juan Luna, "The Parisian Life". The Commission on Audit of the said organization found the buying of these paintings to be excessive.
For this reason, the employee association of the said agency filed a case against the President and General Manager of GSIS together with nine other government officials for graft and grave misconduct.The employee groups said that the officers of the agency is mishandling the monetary contributions of its members. The petitioners however, may not be aware that GSIS is legally allowed to invest its funds to valuable properties. Those paintings are valuable piece of heritage. The painting of Juan Luna, "The Parisian Life" for one is 110 years old. The painting shows Luna himself with national hero Jose Rizal and Dr. Ariston Bautista Lim in a scene described as the “last gathering of great Filipinos on the eve of momentous events” in Paris. Luna reportedly made the painting months before the three returned to the country on the eve of the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spain. This a very valuable piece of heritage that should be owned by the country. The purchase of those paintings are investments. Paintings must be seen not just as mere decorations but as form of investment. Availability of these great art works benefits the local artists.Consequently,development of talented painters and artists should be supported.
The issue was exploited by some politicians and was a headline on major newspapers. The Court of Appeals however dismissed the case due to insufficiency of evidence.
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