Grand Old Man of Philippine Art: Fernando Amorsolo

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Saturday marks the 117th anniversary of the birth of Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto (1892-1972). Amorsolo, who is described as "one of the most important artists in the history of painting in the Philippines," was and continues to be one of the most popular Filipino artists.

1. Fernando Amorsolo was a highly prolific artist. He began selling watercolor postcards as a child and continued to create art for the rest of his life. His work appeared in novels, school textbooks, commercial designs, and periodicals. For at least 15 years, Amorsolo averaged about 10 paintings a month.

2. When Amorsolo designed the logo for Ginebra San Miguel, a beverage company, the owner was so impressed by his skill that he offered to fund Amorsolo's further education. Amorsolo took the entrance exam for the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, but wasn't accepted as a student—based on the results, the school informed him that they would accept him as a professor instead.

3. In addition to his paintings, Amorsolo also drew comic strips. He is credited with having created at least two comic strips, Kiko at Angge and Ganito Pala sa Maynila. These strips may have been the first comic strips to be published in the Philippines at all.

4. Amorsolo was married twice and had 14 children between his two wives (6 with his first wife, 8 with his second wife). For some reason, though, most Internet biographies of Amorsolo incorrectly state he had only 13 children. According to the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation, which was established by his children, Amorsolo had an additional 6 children with a common-law wife between his two marriages, which would bring his children total to 20. (5 of his children also became artists.)

5. Using natural light in his paintings, Amorsolo developed a backlighting technique that became a defining characteristic of his art. Amorsolo paintings can often be recognized by the glowing outlines around the figures depicted. The artist, who once said he hated "sad and gloomy" paintings, is believed to have painted only one scene containing rain.

6. During WWII and the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, Amorsolo's artistic output changed. Instead of featuring sunny countryside scenes, Amorsolo's war-time paintings and sketches recorded the "violence and destruction" around him. While some of these paintings have become well-known, such as "Defense of a Filipina Woman's Honor," they aren't exactly hot commodities in the art world. It's even rumored that one or two of his paintings of the burning of Manila are jinxed.

A larger version of "Fruit Pickers Under the Mango Tree" (1937) is available here.

Fans should check out the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation; the recent Amorsolo Retrospective in the Philippines; the collection of Amorsolo's work at Frazer Fine Arts; Amorsolo's daughter's essay, "Remembering Papa;" and the work of Amorsolo's uncle, Fabian de la Rosa.

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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