Damian Domingo y Gabor (ca. 1790-1832) is considered the first great Filipino painter and the country's first formal art educator.
Don Damian's father was Spanish and his mother a Manileña from Tondo. At an early age he already showed a mastery of the brush.
Domingo is known for being among the first to start painting secular subjects, a major departure from the typical religious paintings of the previous era. It was the period of the rising middle class, and his tipos del pais or paintings of native Filipinos in their costumes were in demand as decorative items among the ilustrados as well as among the tourists and foreign residents.
He was skilled in executing miniature paintings, which were then in vogue as objects to be given to lovers and friends. According to his great grandson Alfonso Ongpin, customs of the day did not allow formal visits and suitors had to be content with glimpses of their sweethearts from the street. Domingo amazed his clients with his ability to capture a perfect likeness of the lady in question after a few brief sightings of her at her window.
It is told that his miniature portrait of Lucia Casas so captivated the lady's father, the wealthy colonel Don Ambrocio Casas, that he invited the painter into his house. A romance developed followed by a marriage that produced eight children, including Celedonia, Severo, Anastacio, Feliciana, Agapita, Mariano, Jose, and Nicolasa. Two of them, Severo and Jose, would follow in the footsteps of their father.
The First Formal Philippine Art School
Domingo became the painter of choice of Manila's prominent class. He not only developed genre painting but also portraiture. His fame became so widespread that even Governor-General Mariano Ricafort (1825-1830) sat for him. Domingo realized the value of formal art education, and moved his peers and students to study art in a rigorous way attuned to the Western world.
He established the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura in 1821. Two years later another school was opened by the Sociedad Economica Filipina de Amigos del Pais. On 13 June 1826 both schools were fused when Domingo was asked to teach at the latter academy. In 1828 he was made the director.
In his school he required that there be no discrimination of the races. The students were taught anatomy, still life painting, perspective drawing, the handling of oils and watercolors, and the preparation of colors and painting surfaces.
For his talent and civic work, Domingo was given the honorary title of lieutenant of the Spanish army. The French writer Jean Mallat observed that his miniatures displayed the mark of great talent.
Domingo died on July 26, 1834 after a long and progressive illness. The academy was officially closed on May 16, 1834 due to lack of funds.
Of his known surviving works, most are watercolors. Among his oil paintings are the religious works The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas, Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary, The Chair of St. Peter in Rome, and The Holy Family.
In 2007 Ayala Museum mounted the first major retrospective of the spectrum of his oeuvre, including religious images from the Ongpin Family collection, miniature portraits, and several versions of his Philippine costume albums. The exhibit was curated by a direct descendant of the painter, Lisa Ongpin-Periquet, along with Luciano Santiago and Deanna Ongpin-Recto.