Painting in the Philippines is a reflection of the rich culture and diversity in the nation. The history of Filipino paintings can be traced back to the pre-historic times, when paintings were made on the walls of the caves. These paintings are shown to have different types of human figures, frogs and other types of animals. Spanish influence in the Philippines in the 16th century led to the introduction of Christianity and paintings were used as a means to spread the propaganda of the Church and to promote Catholic teachings. From the 16th century till the 19th century, paintings were thus primarily made only to serve the purpose of the Church. Change was seen in the early 19th century, when Filipino painters began getting educated and realized the importance of art in the society. This led to a shift in artistic expression from religious motifs to the representation of the native culture, life and identity. Painters started exploring new and different methods of painting and watercolors became the preferred mode of painting. The best-known paintings of this time include Felix Resurrección Hidalgo’s Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho and Juan Luna’s Spolarium. The Second World War also had a profound effect on the art of the country. Painters focused on making art which highlighted the dark and grim nature of war and how war affected the people of the Philippines. Know more about the contribution of Filipino artists to the art world through their 10 most famous paintings.
#10 La Laguna Estigia
English Title: The River Styx
Artist: Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo
Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo is regarded as one of the great Filipino painters of the late 19th century. Based on Dante Alighieri’s 14th century epic poem Inferno, La Laguna Estigia, also known as The River Styx or simply The Styx, is a Greco-Roman painting. Inferno is a poem about journey through hell, where hell is depicted as having nine concentric circles which represent the different levels of sins and wickedness. The fifth circle of Hell, which is known as Wrath, is located in the stinking water of the river Styx. In this painting, Hidalgo portrays a darker and more mysterious interpretation of Dante’s poem. The painting was made in a set of two, the other companion piece being La barca de Aqueronte. It was a silver medalist during the General Exhibition of the Philippines in Madrid in 1887.
#9 The Bird Seller
Artist: Vicente Manansala
The Bird Seller is a Cubist painting by Vicente Manansala. The painting highlights the everyday, modern life of a Filipino man. Historically, Manansala was at the forefront of the Modernist movement in the Philippines and this painting is a reflection of the movement. His work was focused on the native identity and the sensibility of a common Filipino, which is noticeable in many of his paintings. In this painting, he has used his original technique known as ‘transparent cubism’, which involves the layering of different shapes and colors. This layering helped in creating movement and depth and therefore, the painting, even though two dimensional, seems to have a certain three-dimensional depth. Along with this, the juxtaposition of straight and curved lines; round and rigid shapes; and soft and hard colors; brings life to this famous artwork.
Artist: Hernando R. Ocampo
A self-taught artist, Hernando Ruiz Ocampo, followed modernist traditions throughout his art career and highlighted his work by using extremely bold color palettes. His art is an amalgamation of life and the abstract features of the world. His most famous and well-known artwork, Genesis, was made for the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The painting was then blown up to weave a curtain which was used at the Cultural Center’s Theater for Performing Arts. The enormous curtain which had Ocampo’s painting was woven by several tapestry artists from Japan. This painting, which has been woven onto the curtain, when viewed under proper lighting effects, looks like a glowing fire with claws that seem to reach the audience sitting in front of the stage.
#7 Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho
English Title: The Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace
Artist: Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo
Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho is the most famous painting by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. It has various names such as The Christian Virgins Presented to the Populace, The Christian Virgins Being Exposed to the Populace and The Christian Virgins Exposed to the Rabble among others. The painting depicts a scene in Ancient Rome where Christians are being persecuted. Two female slaves are seen in the painting. They are scantily clothed and are being mocked by the various Roman men standing near them. The painting has been described as a masterpiece because of the quality of Hidalgo’s work, the composition of the painting and the historical context that is used. This painting had been regarded as one of the national treasures of the Philippines. The original painting no longer exists as it was destroyed in a fire at the University of Valladolid in Spain. However, a copy of the painting is displayed in an art collection at the Central Bank of the Philippines.
#6 The Blood Compact
Artist: Juan Luna
The Blood Compact is a historical painting by Juan Luna. The painting depicts the blood compact ritual, an ancient ritual in the Philippines intended to seal a friendship or treaty. This ritual is taking place between Spanish navigator Miguel López de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna, the chieftain of Bohol. Luna had the help of José Rizal and Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera while he was composing the historical context of the painting. They also helped him by posing for the characters in the artwork. The Blood Compact is one of the last pieces of artwork that was painted by Juan Luna. In the year 1904, the painting won the first prize in Paris, France and subsequently went on to win in the St. Louis Exposition in the United States. Presently, the painting is displayed in the Malacañan Palace, Philippines, which is the official residence of the President of the nation.
#5 Fruit Gatherer
Artist: Fernando Amorsolo
Fernando Amorsolo is most famous for his mastery over playing with light. Therefore, his most well-known style and technique of painting includes illuminated landscapes, which were used to portray the culture, history and the native life of Filipinos. In this painting, he paints a young girl sitting with a basket of fruits in a rural Philippine landscape. The work is characterized by the use of vibrant colors; and idealization of nature as well as native beauty. Fruit Gatherer depicts the very core of the style of painting of Amorsolo. His mastery over portraying natural light is visible in the painting. In December 2009, Fruit Gatherer was auctioned off in Maryland, in record-breaking manner, topping 19th and 20th-century European and American paintings.
#4 The Builders
Artist: Victorio Edades
The Builders is one of the major works that was displayed in the first one-man show of Victorio Edades at the Philippine Columbia Club, in the year 1928. It is believed to be the sum total of all his other paintings that were included in this exhibition. Edades’ use of muddy earth colors, yellows and blacks were what set him and his work apart from his contemporaries. The Builders uses structural and linear composition to bring forward the essence of the painting and the human bodies in the paintings successfully depict the hard labor of the men. Victorio Edades was the leader of the Thirteen Moderns, a group of artists who believed and promoted Modernism in artwork. After returning from the United States, Edades began his campaign for promoting modernism in Filipino art. The Builders is one of the paintings which supported his campaign and helped him in enhancing his mission.
#3 Madonna of the Slums
Artist: Vicente Manansala
Madonna of the Slums by Vicente Manansala was a key painting which significantly contributed to the Modernist movement in the Philippines. It is focused on the shift from the rural to the urban and, in it, Vicente portrays a woman along with her child who have recently moved to the city from the countryside. The work of Manansala was focused on the betterment and proliferation of the national culture, social environment, identity and native sensibility. His paintings were said to bring the city and the countryside together, in one frame. His technique, ‘Transparent Cubism’, where he superimposes shapes and colors is seen in the background of this painting. However, the focus of the painting is on the mother who is tightly holding her child to her chest. Madonna of the Slum is currently on display at the National Museum Collection of the Philippines.
#2 Planting Rice
Artist: Fernando Amorsolo
Fernando Amorsolo’s work generally depicted Filipino people, working or doing things which are native to their country and culture. The painting, Planting Rice, depicts farmers working in a field, with a cluster of huts in the background to give the painting an authentic as well as native feel. In the painting, Amorsolo captured the traditional occupation of men and women in the Philippines. It is a realistic painting which is representational of his own childhood which was spent in a small town. Amorsolo’s famous ‘backlighting’ technique is visible in the painting. The human figures are highlighted by a lighter outline which provides a characteristic lighting and makes the viewer focus on the figures rather than any other element in the painting. Amorsolo’s Planting Rice appears on brochures and travel guides till date. It is the most famous painting of perhaps the best known Filipino artist.
Artist: Juan Luna
Revolving around gladiator matches, Juan Luna’s oil on canvas painting Spoliarium features a glimpse into the history of Rome and the bloody consequences of these matches. The painting depicts dying gladiators who are being dragged by Roman soldiers. The name of the painting ‘Spoliarium’ is a Latin word which refers to the area in the Roman Colosseum which was used to dump the bodies of fallen gladiators. Luna portrayed a contrast between the two sides of the painting: the left is shown with people spectators who are eagerly waiting for the fights and on the right are the people who are mourning the death of a fallen gladiator. It is the largest painting in the Philippines and is displayed at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Manila, Philippines. Juan Luna won his first gold medal for this painting at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid, in the year 1884. Spoliarium is without doubt the most famous painting by a Filipino artist.