León Gallery will bid out four major paintings by Fernando Amorsolo, three of them coming from the famous House of Tabacalera, during the auction house’s Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2019 on June 22.
The quartet of paintings by the country’s first national artist forms a vignette in the auction, which curator Lisa Nakpil called as “The Philippines, as seen through the mythical eyes of Fernando Amorsolo.”
“A grand slam of works from the maestro includes three works from the legendary House of Tabacalera, arguably the country’s biggest and richest company at the end of Spanish rule,” explained Nakpil.
According to social historian Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez, the Compania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, aka La Tabacalera, “was a behemoth whose businesses grew from tobacco to include abaca (Manila hemp), copra, coconut oil, sugar, shipping, and liquor.”
“La Tabacalera established La Flor de la Isabela cigar factory in 1887,” said Gonzalez. “It was the biggest and most modern cigar factory at the time with the capacity for large-scale export which made Manila cigars as famous as their Cuban counterparts.”
The oldest of the Tabacalera Amorsolos in the auction is a masterpiece entitled “Crossing the River,” a 1924 work that was commissioned by La Tabacalera and became an emblem of the company—even being utilized in an advertisement for its presence in the Barcelona Exposition of 1929.
“Intriguingly, rising in the distance from the tobacco fields are the sprawling edifices and smokestacks of the Central Azucarera de Tarlac, which would eventually become the Hacienda Luisita, the source of power and privilege of Cory Aquino’s family,” noted Nakpil. “The Tabacalera archives say that Amorsolo actually painted it in the open air, capturing the farmers returning home in the late afternoon.”
Gonzalez said Hacienda Luisita was formely owned by La Tabacalera. “The 6,453-hectare Hacienda Luisita spanning three towns and 11 villages in Tarlac province was formerly the property of theCompania General de Tabacos de Filipinas, where it had its profitable sugar plantation and mill, the Central Azucarera de Tarlac,” he explained.
“It was sold by La Tabacalera to the Jose C. Cojuangco Sr. family in 1957 because of the Hukbalahap insurgency problem.”
The second work is “Tobacco Maiden,” painted in the 1930s.
“A casco or covered boat that used to ply the Pasig and other major rivers can be seen ponderously moving up the still waters by bargemen,” Nakpil described the painting.
The last featured Tabacalera work is the idyllic “Bathers,” which, according to Nakpil, used to hang in the Tabacalera boardroom in Barcelona.
“Dated 1953,” she said, “it features a trio of water nymphs, splashing, bathing, and drawing water. Piles of wet clothes suggesting it was also washday are arranged on the riverbank stones. A thick bamboo grove provides some privacy.”
The fourth Amorsolo work in the auction was described by Nakpil as “the most epic of the works” to be bid out.
Although “Untitled,” León has given it the title of “Family,” since it depicts a postwar young Filipino family.
“It is a glorious oil that is a parable of the Philippines and Filipino life,” said Nakpil. “A strong, sinewy Juan de la Cruz cradles a child, possibly a symbol of our young nation in 1952. It’s been just six years since the end of World War II and the grant of our independence. Lady Liberty is his wife, her back half-turned in a pose that recalls Juan Luna’s ‘España y Filipinas.’ Three boatmen launch their craft into a rose-colored future.”
The painting was from the collection of J. G. Hohmann, who worked in Bacolod City for the Koppel Inc company in the 1950s. It was acquired by the present owner about 20 years ago. It comes with its original narra framing from the Amorsolo studio, said Nakpil.
Among contemporary works to be bid out are those by Geraldine Javier, Andres Barrioquinto and Jigger Cruz.
Javier’s work, titled “Snow,” is “a powerful diptych,” said Nakpil.
Barrioquinto, fresh off a portrait series exhibited at the National Museum, is represented by a portrait, “an astonishing look at us through cobalt blue eyes and Japanese woodcut dreams,” said Nakpil. —CONTRIBUTED