Fernando Amorsolo

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Fernando Cueto Amorsolo is one of the most celebrated artists of the Philippines, and the first to be designated a National Artist. He was a portraitist and painter of Philippine rural landscapes, and was particularly noted for his brushwork and his skill in depicting light.


Fernando Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Paco, Manila. His parents were Pedro Amorsolo, a bookkeeper, and Bonifacia Cueto. He and his 4 brothers spent their childhood in Daet, Camarines Norte. After his father’s death, Amorsolo and his family moved to Manila to live with his mother's first cousin, the Philippine painter, Don Fabian de la Rosa, who influenced Amorsolo in becoming a full-fledged painter, starting when Amorsolo became his apprentice at the age of 13. As he developed his artistic skills, while his mother did embroidery to earn money Amorsolo helped by selling watercolor postcards to a local bookstore for 10 centavos each. His younger brother, Pablo, also became a painter.[2] [3][4][5] [6]

In 1908, the sixteen-year-old Amorsolo won the second prize for the painting Levendo Periodico at the Bazar Escolta, a contest sponsored by the Asociacion Internacional de Artistas in 1908. In 1909, Amorsolo enrolled at the Art School of the Liceo de Manila where he received recognition for his paintings and drawings. His most outstanding work at that time was a "painting of a young man and a young woman in a garden", which won him the first prize in the art school exhibition during his graduation year.

After graduating from the Liceo, he entered the University of the Philippines' School of Fine Arts at the age of 17. At that time, his uncle, de la Rosa, was also teaching at the University of the Philippines. While he was studying at the Liceo de Manila and at the University of the Philippines, his most influential professors were Rafael Enriquez, Miguel Zaragoza, and Toribio Herrera.[6]

In order to earn a living while at the university, Amorsolo joined competitions and did illustrations for different Philippine publications, such as for Severino Reyes’s first novel in Tagalog, Parusa ng Diyos (God’s Punishment) and for Iñigo Ed. Regalado's Madaling Araw (Dawn). He also illustrated the religious Pasion books.[3][4][7][6]

Amorsolo was awarded medals upon his graduation from the University of the Philippines in 1914. He then joined the University of the Philippines as a part-time instructor, while also working as a draftsman and chair designer for the Bureau of Public Works, and also as a chief artist at the Pacific Commercial Company. After three years as an instructor and as a commercial artist, Amorsolo received further artistic training in 1916. This was when Filipino businessman Enrique Zobel de Ayala gave him a grant to study at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain,which was then under the directorship of two of Madrid's distinguished painters, Jose Moreno Carbonero and Cecilio Planas. He was already an admirer of the Realists Courbet, Corot, Millet, and Manet, the Impressionists Monet, Renoir and Whistler, and the Post-Impressionsists Luce and Gauguin, and his favorite artist was Diego Velasquez. During his seven months in Spain, Amorsolo was to discover more art as well as sketch at museums and along the streets of Madrid, experimenting with the use of light and color. Through De Ayala’s grant, Amorsolo was also able to visit New York where he discovered the creations of known postwar impressionists and cubists. The European and American artists who became his great influences and inspirations were the Spanish court painter Diego Velazquez, and Europe|European painters and impressionists John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Ignacio Zuloaga. Some of the qualities of Impressionism, like the fluid brushwork, found their way into his style, and he adopted Velasquez's technique of blurring intricate details, but the style Amorsolo developed after his intense study was his own and distinctively Filipino.

Amorsolo set up his own studio upon his return to Manila.[2][3][7][6]He began painting prodigiously during the 1920s and the 1930s. His first important painting was Rice Planting (1922). Rice Planting became one of the most popular images during the Commonwealth period. It appeared on calendars, posters, and tourist brochures. From the 1930s to the 1950, Amorsolo widely exhibited his works in the Philippines and abroad. Outside the Philippines, his exhibitions were held in Belgium, at the Exposicion de Panama in 1914, at a one-man show at the Grand Central Gallery in New York City in 1925, and at the National Museum in Herran on November 6, 1948. Amorsolo's entries at the Exposicion in Panama were a portrait of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the piece La Muerte de Socrates. At the 1948 National Museum in Herran, Amorsolo 's exhibition was sponsored by the Art Association of the Philippines. In 1950, Amorsolo exhibited two more historical paintings, "Faith Among the Ruins" and "Baptism of Rajah Humabon" at the Missionary Art Exhibit in Rome. His works later appeared on the cover and pages of children's textbooks, in novels, in commercial designs, in cartoons and illustrations for the Philippine publications such The Independent, Philippine Magazine, Telembang, Renacimiento Filipino, and Excelsior. Amorsolo also received honors and distinctions for his works. In 1939, Amorsolo’s oil painting, the Afternoon Meal of the Workers (also known as Noonday Meal of the Rice Workers), won first prize at the New York World's Fair. Amorsolo taught painting and drawing for 38 years at the University of the Philippines. He was the director of the University of the Philippine’s College of Fine Arts from 1938 to 1952. On his retirement, Amorsolo devoted his time to painting and creating illustrations for children’s textbooks and magazines. Two months after being confined at the St. Luke’s Hospital in Manila, Amorsolo died on April 26, 1972, having succumbed to heart failure. He died at the age of 79.[2][3][7][8][6]

During his lifetime, Amorsolo was married twice and had 14 children. In 1916, he married Salud Jorge, with whom he had six children. After Jorge’s death in 1931, Amorsolo married Maria del Carmen Zaragoza, with whom he had eight more children. Among his daughters are Sylvia Amorsolo Lazo and Luz Amorsolo. Five of Amorsolo’s children became painters themselves.

Amorsolo had associations with various painters. A number of his students became distinguished painters themselves. One of his close friends was the Philippine sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, the creator of the Caloocan City monument for the Philippine hero, Andres Bonifacio.[2][4][9][10][5]

As Illustrator and Cartoonist

One of the neglected phases in the early career of Fernando Amorsolo was his early job as illustrator and cartoonist in various vernacular magazines from 1910-1925.

To supplement his income as a portrait artist and painter, in those years Amorsolo would moonlight as illustrator/cartoonist in The Philippines Free Press, The Independent, Lipang Kalabaw, and the Telembang. Some of works he did at this time were portrait caricatures of various Philippine politicians like Quezon, Osmena, Recto, Gov. Leonard Wood, as well as popular culture personalities like Borromeo Lou, the Carnival Queens, and many others.

As a cartoonist, Amorsolo was credited with having created at least two comic strips--presumably the very first published comic strips in the Philippines: Kiko at Angge (1922) in the Telembang, and Ganito Pala sa Maynila in Lipang Kalabaw.

Although the comic strips did not bear the name of the artist (because of the satirical content of the strips), it was obvious from the lines and strokes that Amorsolo was unmistakeably the cartoonist of both.

In his authoritative book Amorsolo, art historian Alfredo Roces confirmed that it was indeed Amorsolo who drew these cartoons. One of the pages of the strip in Ganito Pala sa Maynila was even reproduced in the photo section of the book.

National Artist of the Philippines

In 1972, Fernando Amorsolo became the first Filipino to be distinguished as the Philippine's National Artist in Painting. He was named as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art” during the inauguration of the Manila Hilton’s art center, where his paintings were exhibited on 23 January 1969. He achieved recognition mainly for his Philippine subject matter and his influence in the local art scene. Though his works covered a wide range of subjects, he is especially known for his idealized and romanticized dalagang bukid or dalagang nayon, which are the images of Filipino women from the countryside. The typical “Amorsolo women” were brown, clear-complexioned, young, beautiful, and slender-figured. He also painted scenes of traditional Filipino customs, culture, fiestas and occupations, and a series of historical paintings on pre-Colonial and Spanish Colonization events. Amorsolo preferred to paint by employing natural light and developed the technique of backlighting, which became his artistic trademark. In the glow created by this technique, Amorsolo’s subjects whether human figures or inanimate objects stood out. Nick Joaquin, described Amorsolo’s backlighting technique as “the rapture of a sensualist utterly in love with the earth, with the Philippine sun… an accurate expression of Amorsolo's own exuberance”.[1][2] [3][11][8][12][13

Subject matter

While Amorsolo produced a wide range of work, two generalizations can easily be made regarding his typical subject matter. First, he clearly had a love for the landscape of the Philippines; second, of the Filipino people. Amorsolo established clear roles for such types of subject matter as mother and child, and farm laborers.

Having grown up toward the end of Spanish colonization, Amorsolo showed a preference for the Spanish-influenced traditions kept alive by the rural folk during the years of uncertainty and change during American colonization. In the early years of the twentieth century, the Hispanic influenced remained strong, but with the influence of the American colonizers, soon English replaced Spanish as the lingua franca in governemnt and education. American motion pictures, music, literature and sports were replacing the pastimes that were popular during the Spanish period. But Amorsolo kept the latter alive in his paintings. [11]

Amorsolo was an important influence on contemporary Filipino art and artists. To art experts, Amorsolo was a prolific genre-focused and traditional classicist painter who, through his compositions, set the standard for Philippine art of his time. A man of few words and extreme propriety and graciousness, his art was viewed as a natural extension of his mild-mannered personality.[11]

Amorsolo was an incessant sketcher who meticulously focused on details of hands and feet, of gestures and positions, of faces and bodies. He was also known for his drawing studies of Filipino farmers and country folk doing their cyclic chores, from planting rice to harvest time, of women doing their chores under the sun, and of city folk engaged in routine activities such as cooking and dining, and the wartime ambiance during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Amorsolo was also fond of basing the faces in his paintings on members of his family, especially the women. With his family, either at home or in Luneta Park while with his family waiting for the sun to set, he made quick sketches. He made sketches of farmers in Marilao and Santa Maria in Bulacan, and in Nueva Ecija.[9][14]

As Amorsolo's fame grew, he was sought after as a portraitist. Numerous prominent personalities had their portraits painted by him. This includes a portrait of US Senator Warren Grant Magnuson (1905–1989), of the Democratic Party from Washington, whom the Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Building at the University of Washington and the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland are named after. He also chose to paint members of his family.

Although best known for his glowing landscapes and portraits of tanned and smiling Filipinas wearing traditional costumes, Amorsolo also excelled in depicting historical scenes. His The First Baptism in the Philippines required numerous detailed sketches and colored studies of its elements. These diverse elements were meticulously finalized by the artist before being transferred to the final canvas. For his pre-colonial and 16th-century depictions of the Philippines, Amorsolo referred to the written accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, other available reading materials and visual sources. He consulted with the Philippine scholars of the time, H. Pardo de Tavera and Epifanio de los Santos.[2][3][11]


Amorsolo's most enduring influence was his uncle, Fabian de la Rosa. His style differed from his uncle's mainly when it came to his brighter lighting.

Amorsolo is known for his backlighting technique. Most of his paintings have a distinctive glow against which the figures stand out. His skillful handling of tropical sunlight is evident in his genre work Rice Planting (1922). For this particular composition, Amorsolo scoured the countryside in pursuit of not only ideal beauty, but also “sunlight at high noon,” when contrasts were strongest and when “sunshafts going through mango leaves fascinated him, more so when these created a lacework of light patterns on the ground or when a light spot highlighted a smile or a captivating gesture.”

Amorsolo aimed to provide his viewers with the complete figure at one glance. Frequently his figures were not definitely outlined but were mere suggestions of the intended image. Facial features were usually summarily sketched. Nonetheless, he achieved a feeling of completeness.

His style of depiction, which presents all that is Filipino at its best, reveals his nationalism. Although his ideals were based on classical precepts, his point of reference was always what was Filipino. Thus his ideal women were tanned and soft-featured.

As Rod Paras-Perez says:

"For Amorsolo, the classical precepts neatly summed by Goethe as the true, the good and the beautiful were still valid ideals for art. Except that Amorsolo considered Venus de Milo or Mona Lisa to be good enough for the West, but for Filipinos, Amorsolo felt a different ideal of beauty was needed. Amorsolo made this clear in the rare instance that he spoke when he defined the ideal Filipina beauty as. . . "one with a rounded face, not of the oval type often presented to us in newspapers and magazine illustrations. The eyes should be exceptionally lively, not the dreamy, sleepy type that characterizes the Mongolian. The nose should be of the blunt form but firm and strongly marked. The mouth plays a very important part in the determination of a beautiful face. The ideal Filipina beauty should have a sensuous mouth, not the type of the pouting mouth of early days. . . So the ideal Filipina beauty should not necessarily be white complexioned, nor of the dark brown color of the typical Malayan, but of the clear skin or fresh colored type which we often witness when we meet a blushing girl."

Historical and War Paintings

Most of Amorsolo's historical paintings are quiet and peaceful. He rarely painted emotional and depressing situations such as battle or execution scenes based on Philippine Revolution and the Filipino-American War. The only Amorsolo painting to depict actual violence in a historical event was his Assassination of Governor Bustamante. Most of his historical paintings show quiet scenes of early Filipinos. Amorsolo's paintings drawn from his personal experiences during the Japanese occupation and the Battle for Manila in 1945, have more dramatic subjects.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II, Amorsolo faced the grim realities of World War II, depicting scenes of destruction in a number of paintings, some of which can be found in the collection of the Vargas Museum. At that time, his family lived in Azcarrga Street (now Claro M. Recto Street), a place near the Far Eastern University and a Japanese garrison at the time. Concerned about the safety of his wife and children, Amorsolo rented a separate apartment along Raon Street. His wife and the rest of Amorsolo’s family stayed in the house on Raon Street, while Amorsolo himself and some male relatives resided in the Azcarraga Street home at daytime. Despite the risk, Amorsolo sketched war scenes from the window or the rooftop of his wartime home.

Portrayals of human sorrow and suffering were revealed through his illustrations of “women mourning their dead husbands, files of people with pushcarts and makeshift bags leaving a dark burning city tinged with red from fire and blood”. One particular painting, the Defense of a Filipina Woman’s Honor (1945), had two figures huddled in a corner: a man defiantly about to defend his wife or daughter from being raped or executed by an invisible Japanese soldier. The Japanese soldier is outside Amorsolo's canvas, but from the defiant look of the man, it can be assumed that the intruder is still inside the house.

Amorsolo was also commissioned by a Philippine collector, Don Alfonso Ongpin, to execute a portrait in absentia of General Douglas MacArthur. He also painted Japanese occupation soldiers and self-portraits at this time. His wartime paintings were exhibited at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in 1948. These wartime paintings and drawings are regarded as a personal record of Philippine history.[2][9][15]

Deprived not only of painting materials but of pleasant scenes, during World War II Amorsolo’s personal role as a painter of timeless panoramas was replaced by the responsibility of documenting on paper and canvases the destruction of many landmarks in Manila. He became not only a meticulous recorder of names of the people he drew or of the time of day when he painted a person or a scene, but he also became an observer and documentary painter of pain, tragedy and death. Instead of producing masterpieces similar to his Ina at Anak, a pacific painting that demonstrates the love and bond between a female parent and her infant, Amorsolo chose to draw the lives, circumstances and sufferings of Filipina women during the Second World War. Moved by the many horrific events, his artworks became full of “mothers clutching children fleeing burning ruins”; of “a woman bayoneted by a Japanese soldier as her child cries on the ground”; of a mother grieving over her dead son’s lifeless body; and of “women and children scavenging for anything to eat”. Amorsolo’s Defense of a Filipina Woman’s Honor (1945) represented his unspoken defiance against oppression.[15]


As a master of portraiture and genre paintings, Amorsolo was sought after not only by influential and rich Filipinos such as Luis Araneta, Antonio Araneta and Jorge Vargas. Amorsolo also became the favorite Philippine artist of United States officials and visitors in the Philippines. Due to his popularity, Amorsolo had to resort to photographing his works and pasted and mounted them in an album. Prospective patrons could then choose from this catalogue of his works. Amorsolo did not create exact replicas of his trademark themes; he recreated the paintings by varying some elements.[9]

Already sought-after in life, the master painter's works continued to be in great demand after his death, commanding high prices. On January 16, 2001, in Wellesley, Massachusetts, two original 1950s Fernando Amorsolo paintings headlined a sale at the Downer Auction Gallery. One painting, The Cockfight (see gallery below), was purchased by a New Jersey collector at $36,000, while the Resting Under the Trees painting was purchased by the same buyer at $31,500. On November 11, 2002, during an Antiques Roadshow (PBS) episode at the Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisiana, Sotheby’s antiques appraiser and vice president of Fine Arts Consignment in New York City, Nan Chisholm, estimated that a signed 1945 rural landscape painting, with farmers, a carabao and a nipa hut, by Fernando Amorsolo could fetch between $30,000 and $50,000 at an auction. Fernando Amorsolo painting appraised by Nan Chisholm, vice president and director of Fine Arts Consignment, Sotheby's in New York, New York, Highlights, Broadcast Highlights, New Orleans, Louisiana, Program #619, Morial Convention Center, Monday, November 11, 2002, at 8pm, Antiques Roadshow, PBS.org and WGBH, 2007, retrieved on: July 2, 2007[16[17]

The artist's legacy

The volume of paintings, sketches, and studies of Amorsolo is believed to have reached more than 10,000 pieces due not only to his love for painting and the great demand for his works, but his speed in working. He was able to finish three life-size paintings for the Philippine Pavilion in the 1931 Paris Exposition in less than a month in time to exhibit them along with one of his anecdotal paintings, The Conversion of the Filipinos.

Amorsolo was one of the most influential painters of his time. Many of his contemporaries painted similar scenes, partly because he and his artist friends Irineo Miranda, Jose Pereira, Dominador Castaneda, and Isidro Ancheta went on sketching trips together to rural farmlands around Teresa, Montalban, and Marikina. His popularity also led to many imitators. At the same time, his romanticized style became the particular target for the criticism of the rebelling Modernists. But his popularity was enduring and led to many important commissions. He painted oil portraits of Philippine General Emilio Aguinaldo, Philippine presidents, and other prominent Filipino individuals. He also painted a mural for the Metropolitan Theater.

During the 1950s until his death in 1972, Amorsolo created an average of 10 paintings a month. However, during his later years, the ordeals of diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, headaches, dizziness and the death of two sons affected the execution of his works. Amorsolo underwent a cataract operation when he was 70 years old, but this did not impede him in drawing and painting. In 1971, Amorsolo also had ear surgery. Through all this, he had to continue to labor to support his large family, which led to his repeating many of his trademark motifs to satisfy the demand for them. But out of integrity, he made sure his works were never mere copies of each other, always having variations.

Despite his sufferings and his struggle to provide for his family, even Amorsolo's later works continued to possess his renowned tropical Philippine sunlight trademark and idyllic scenery. He is believed to have executed only one painting with a rainy-day scene.[2][8][6] As Rod Paras-Perez commented, "It was pointless to expect an ugly lass from Amorsolo, or even an angry landscape."

Four days after his death, Amorsolo was declared the First Philippine National Artist in Painting at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by Ferdinand E. Marcos.[6]

In 1979, Fernando Amorsolo's legacy as a painter was celebrated through an exhibition of his works at the Art Center of the Manila Hilton.[6]

On 3 February 2003, the children of Fernando Amorsolo founded the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation. The Foundation was dedicated to preserving Fernando Amorsolo’s legacy as an artist. It also had the objective of promoting the master painter’s unique style, of propagating Fernando Amorsolo’s artistic vision, and of preserving national heritage through the conservation and promotion of his works. [18]

The popularity of his works has endured over the decades. They are viewed with nostalgia and reverence as truly Filipino images. One of Amorsolo’s most widely reproduced paintings is the Making of the Philippine Flag.[11]

Amorsolo's other famous works

His major works include:[3][8]

  • My Wife, Salud, (1920)
  • Maiden in a Stream, (1921)
  • Rice Planting, (1922)
  • El Ciego, (1928)
  • The Conversion of the Filipinos, (1931)
  • Dalagang Bukid, (1936)
  • Fruit Pickers Harvesting Under The Mango Tree, (1939)
  • Afternoon Meal of the Workers (also known as Noonday Meal of the Rice Workers), (1939)
  • The Rape of Manila, (1942)
  • The Bombing of the Intendencia, (1942)
  • The Mestiza, (1943)
  • The Explosion, (1944)
  • Defense of a Filipina Woman’s Honor, (1945), oil on canvas (60.5 in x 36 in)
  • The Burning of Manila, (1945)
  • Planting Rice, (1946)
  • Fruit Gatherer, (1950)
  • Sunday Morning Going To Town, (1958)
  • US Senator Warren Magnuson Oil Portrait, (1958)
  • The First Baptism in the Philippines
  • Princess Urduja
  • Sale of Panay
  • Early Sulu Wedding
  • Early Filipino State Wedding
  • Traders
  • Sikatuna
  • The First Mass in the Philippines
  • The Building of Intramuros
  • Burning of the Idol
  • Assassination of Governor Bustamante
  • Making of the Philippine Flag
  • La destruccion de Manila por los salvajes japoneses (The Destruction of Manila by the Savage Japanese)
  • Bataan
  • Corner of Hell
  • One Casualty
  • El Violinista (The Violinist)

Awards and achievements

  • 1908 – 2nd Prize, Bazar Escolta (Asocacion Internacional de Artistas), for Levendo Periodico
  • 1922 – 1st Prize, Commercial and Industrial Fair in the Manila Carnival
  • 1925 - One-man exhibit at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York
  • 1927 - 1st Prize for General Painting at the Manila Carnival Commercial and Industrial Fair
  • 1929 – 1st Prize, New York’s World Fair, for Afternoon Meal of Rice Workers
  • 1940 – Outstanding University of the Philippines Alumnus Award
  • 1959 – Gold Medal, UNESCO National Commission
  • 1961 – Rizal Pro Patria Award
  • 1961 – Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities, from the Far Eastern University
  • 1963 – Diploma of Merit from the University of the Philippines
  • 1963 – Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award, from the City of Manila
  • 1963 – Republic Cultural Heritage Award
  • 1972 – Gawad CCP para sa Sining, from the Cultural Center of the Philippines[1] and First National Artist of the Republic of the Philippines

See also

External links



  • Duldulao, Manuel D. A Century of Realism in Philippine Art (2nd revised edition). Quezon City: Legacy Publishers, 1992.
  • Roces, Alfredo, Amorsolo. Manila, 1978
  • McCoy, Alfred, Roces, Alfredo, Philippine Cartoons. Manila: Vera Reyes, 1985.
  • Paras-Perez, Rod. "Amorsolo Drawings." [1]
  • Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation. [2]
  1. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named GlobalPinoy