Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo
Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo (1924–1984) was a Hispano-Filipino businessman, patron of the arts and one of the greatest Filipino painters. He was a member of the prominent Zobel de Ayala family of the Philippines.
Zobel was born on August 27, 1924. He was the youngest child of Enrique Zobel de Ayala and Fermina Montojo de Torrontegui. His siblings were Matilden, Gloria, and Consuelo. His half siblings were Jacobo, Alfonso and Mercedes.
After early studies in Madrid and Switzerland, he attended the Brent International School in Baguio between 1936 and 1941. He started medical studies at the University of Santo Tomas but his education was interrupted by the eruption of World War II. Because of health problems he spent a year recuperating in bed. At 18 young Zobel started to sketch caricatures, landscapes and doodles of his own fancy. He would sometimes sketch postcards which he sent by mail to his friends and family. After the war his family encouraged him to pursue studies in business management, although he inclined more to the humanities.
He continued his undergraduate studies at Harvard University, where he majored in history and literature, graduating magna cum laude in 1949. During his Harvard sojourn he was greatly impressed by the art of calligraphy. He also studies the works of Reed Champion, James Pfeufer, and Hyman Bloom. He began experimenting with all kinds of techniques, including oils, watercolors and serigraphy. His artistic inclinations were influenced by both his mother and father who were both amateur painters. His father Don Enrique was a lover of art and culture and was the benefactor and patron of young Fernando Amorsolo, sending him to Spain to study at the Academia de San Fernando de Bellas Artes. In gratitude Amorsolo taught young Zobel the basics of painting.
When Zobel came back to the Philippine in the 1950s, he befriended fellow artists who were interested in the then emergent field of modern art, helping set the stage for the Philippine modernist movement. He not only experimented painting that way, he also collected modernist art.
He held his first solo exhibition at the Philippine Art Gallery in 1952. His first works were characterized by lush colors and quick energetic lines depicting Philippine landscapes and folklore. His entrance in the Philippine art world stimulated the scene. While pursuing his artistic concerns he actively participated in the family's business for 10 years, working at the personnel department of Ayala Corporation.
In 1953 he started shifting to abstraction. It was a period of crisis for him, as he was trying to satisfy the demands of business life while seeking out new artistic avenues. In 1954 he left Manila and entered the prestigious American art school, Rhode Island School of Design. There he discovered the works of Mark Rothko which was to illuminate his artistic enterprise.
When he returned to Manila he followed up his abstract direction with studies on Chinese and Japanese art. In 1960 he decided to move to Spain and resigned from Ayala y Cia.
His first major series was called "Saetas". "Subtle, subdued, and understated" were the words used to describe his paintings. His Saeta paintings which was described as "brief, acidic and highly emotional" (Reyes 1989). His "Serie Negra" experimented with using black as its only color. He wrote: "After almost two years, I realized that use of color was quite arbitrary, not to say merely decorative. Any combination of two colors, provided that it had certain vibration to it, could be useful to me. I think that, in a work of art, anything that fails to prove necessary is superfluous and can even distract, weaken and hinder. Little by little, I eliminated color to work like black strokes on a white background."
In 1963 he ventured back into color, but this time not to use it to depict descriptive details but only for its emotional depiction of the most essential element of the subject. His last major project was called "Dialogos" in which he visited museums all over Europe to look at classic paintings which he would later transform into its abstract qualities.
In 1963 he also published his landmark book, Philippine Religious Imagery and many articles on Philippine colonial art in journals like Philippine Studies. He also reviewed books on numismatics and religious images. Scholar Bentio Legarda, Jr writes that these studies of "churches and Philippine religious imagery was part of Zobel's search for the elusive 'Filipino artistic expression.'"
He became the director of the Ateneo Art Gallery. He was its true patron and advocate. He donated his personal art collection to his alma mater, thus establishing the first and finest modern art gallery of the Philippines. In recognition of his role as a arts advocate, he was conferred a doctorate in humanites by the Ateneo de Manila Univeristy. Art critic Purita Kalaw-Ledesma observed that Zobel "lifted the vision [of Filipino artists] from the purely parochial to the international level."
He became a lifelong friend of fellow modernist painters Lee Aguinaldo and Arturo Luz. He was fabled for his generosity, donation scholarships, books, art materials and gifts to encourage the abstract and modernist movement. He found artistic inspiration in the town of Cuenca, Spain, in a house set high on a cliff, which he would fill with modernist art. Eventually this would become the first museum of abstract art in all of Spain. Such was its renown that Alfred Barr, the first director of New York's fabled Museum of Modern Art would describe it as the most beautiful museum that he had ever seen. In 1983 in recognition of his promotion of Spanish contemporary art, King Juan Carlos I conferred on him the Medalla de Oro al Merito en las Bellas Artes. He was later elected to the elite Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid.
He died in Rome on June 2, 1984 and was buried in his beloved town of Cuenca, on its highest point with a view of Jucar River.
- awards from the Art Association of the PHilippines:
- first prize for Carroza in 1953
- second prize for Number 344 in 1960
- first prize for Painting in 1962
- CCP Encyclopedia of Philippine Art, Vol 4. Manila: Cultural Center of the Philippines, 1994.
- Lourdes Brillantes "81 Years of Premio Zobel." Makati: Filipinas Heritage Library, 2006.
- Harvard Magazine short profile by John Seed Accessed 5 February 2009