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Fernando Amorsolo: Portrait of the Artist as Historian

Fernando Amorsolo is the most prolific Filipino artist of his time known for painting the Philippines’ rural life during 19th century.says Ambeth Ocampo giving his second talk of the two-part series “History Comes Alive” at Ayala Museum. “And history is not always written by historians. It can be done by musicians or painters like him.” He added. One example is the painting of the Battle of Mactan he showed us in his projector. “The beginning of the Philippine history is in 1521.” He said. “So how about the events happened in the Philippines before 1521, isn’t it a part of history?” He replied. “Lapu-lapu and his men defeated Magellan in 1521. This marked the Filipino’s resistance against colonialism. This was properly documented.” If you will talk about what happened before 1521 which is mostly undocumented in words or images, that might not be history at all. You may call it as the study of anthropology, geology or even archaeology instead!”
Fernando Amorsolo’s paintings are mostly known as perfect scenes of everyday life in the rice fields, mountains, gardens, streets, homes etc. showing them in a very easy, laid back life: celebrating fiesta, women harvesting fruits and vegetables, ladies bathing in the river, men riding the carabao, children playing and more. No chaos, no tiredness or even simply complaining the heat of the sun or the meagerness of their work. It was all about beauty in simplicity. He is known to have mastered the use of light, could be the sunlight and this is probably what sets him apart from the rest of painters the Philippines had. 

In most of his paintings, his favorite subject is always a charming Filipina woman and said to have rejected western ideals of beauty. He is also fond of painting Filipina women either one with a curvaceous body or nude. He shared his idea of a Filipina beauty:

“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. ... 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 met a blushing girl."

Portrait of Lina. Source from Amorsolo's Official Website

Fernando Amorsolo not settled for painting alone. He has made illustrations for novels, magazines, textbooks and comic books. His paintings are one of the most copied reproductions in calendars. He has satire drawings of an ugly Chinese making a siopao using a cat’s flesh instead of pork. He also did historical paintings like the First Mass which is said to behalf-correct and half-wrong. He has a Muslim wedding painting which the bride is showing her bare breasts. This is very much logically incorrect as will there be any woman in her wedding would appear half-naked? He also painted the legendary Princess Urduja and a not so good copy of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium. Also not everyone know that the popular GSM blue liquor’s image used until today of archangel San Miguel fighting over the devil is his work! Photo source here

During the Japanese occupation, his painting mood also switched from the beauty of life to hardships of war. He painted hungry people lining up for food, Japanese soldiers in their uniforms, wounded people, trucks loaded with soldiers. There were two drawings that he showed his “silent anger” against the Japanese: one painting with Japanese soldiers he wrote in the lower part as “hijo de puta” and another one same with these soldiers he wrote in Spanish if translated to English says “the horses are much more good-looking than these men.”

During American occupation, he painted Manila as a destroyed city: ruins of Fort Santiago and Manila Cathedral and soldiers inside war tanks. The pretty smiling woman as his favorite subject in his previous paintings is now as a woman in terror trying to escape the war and carrying her child hiding her in her arms for protection.

When the war is over, Fernando Amorsolo continued painting. Though the damages of wars physically and emotionally can no longer be restored, he went back to the style of painting just like when he was starting, picturesque landscapes of the Filipinos’ everyday life in the simplest way“. Through his paintings he gave us an image of a lost innocence that the Philippines is no more.” says Ambeth as his closing remark.

To read a review of an artist's side of this topic you may check Voyager-3's Historian: Among the Artist's Multiple Roles here

Source: Review of Fernando Amorsolo: Portrait of the Artist as Historian
Ayala Museum
Sept 8, 20012

Related Reading:

Ambeth Ocampo's  Jose Rizal in Switzerland


  1. It's good to have your good and detailed review from which I can read and link to. Thanks for posting this. Looking forward to read your other reviews.

  2. welcome :) I read yours as well and it seems it is a bit more than what i did there. I miss the point of view of an artist's thought since I am not one like you.

  3. I finally found your "new" site. I realized months ago that my link to your post was already dead but I couldn't find you new URL. Thanks to blogger stats and a reader who jumped to my post from your link. Now I can read more of your posts.