Php 318,034,720. That’s the total gross that Leon Gallery and the Asian Cultural Council hit after its February 23 auction, which sold 133 items (the original list had 158 lots). The total is based on the auction results published by Leon Gallery online, which includes the buyer’s premium of 15 percent or PhP 47, 705,708 and value added tax on premium of 1.6 percent or PhP 5,724,624.96. The total hammer price of the items sold was PhP 264,604,887 which goes to the consignors or sellers, minus more or less eleven percent or PhP 29,106,537, which is the fee or commission of the auction house. The Asian Cultural Council, Leon Gallery’s partner in the auction, gets a percentage from the proceeds of the auction. The organization helps increase international awareness of Filipino artists and funds artist-scholars abroad for art studies.
16 blue chip artists emerged from the first of Leon Gallery’s four auction seasons in 2019. The bestselling names form a well-balanced mix that spans styles. Three of them—Damian Domingo, Lorenzo Guerrero, and Fernando Amorsolo—are old masters while one is semi-representational artist Anita Magsaysay-Ho. A handful are abstractionists, expressionists and cubists: Ang Kiukok, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, Hernando Ocampo, Mauro Malang Santos, and HR Ocampo. Several others are post-World War II artists led by Benedicto Cabrera. And there is also the post-modernist Ronald Ventura, the pure abstractionists Lao Lianben and Fernando Zobel. Also included in the list are Annie Cabigting and Mark Justiniani.
Masters and model
Two paintings tied for the highest selling artwork at the auction, Fernando Amorsolo’s ‘Cooking Under the Mango Tree’ and Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s ‘Sineguelas Gatherers.’ Both sold for P23,360,000 each, including the buyer’s premium. The top-selling artist was Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972) with seven artworks, typical of his representational and lyrical display of light and darkness in bucolic sceneries. Sold at a total of P57.38M collectively, Amorsolo easily ranked number one. The works included “Lady with Banga” (1933, sold at P12.8M), “Under the Mango Tree” (1947, P11.6M), and “Noonday Meal” (1938, at P6.4M).
Next top seller was Magsaysay-Ho whose two paintings sold for a total P31.53M, with the other painting, “Two Women” selling for P8.1M. The two works auctioned represent Magsaysay-Ho’s consistent veneration of Filipina workers, depicted on canvas in groups, not individuals. As a class, they look alike: their black hair hidden by white kerchiefs, covered with white tops and long skirt or pants. They are barefoot, but elegant, busy with work, dignified, and not sweating.
Semi-abstract artist Ang Kiukok (1931-2005) totaled P28.61M with four works sold, making him the third top seller on Leon’s ladder. The list included “Twelfth Station: Jesus Died on the Cross” (1997, P14M “Thirteenth Station; Jesus on the Lap of His Mother” (1997, P11.09M) “Christ” (2000, P2.56M and “Tablescape” (1970, P934,400,000).
Lorenzo Guerrero’s (1835-1904) representational 14 x 10 oil on wood “(Tuba) Vendors,” dated 1868, was sold at P22.19M, making the artist a surprising fourth. It depicts a village leader in a striped local shirt, his left foot on top of a bamboo table. There, a long-haired woman in simple native costume fills a row of bottles with tuba. Around them, men and women drink tuba with their kids and fighting cocks, in a garden with coconut trees and a Nipa hut.
Auction superstar and post-modernist Ronaldo Ventura (1973), now fifth on Leon’s chart, reached P21.9M His “Untitled (back of a flagellant),” dated 2014, was sold for P8.17M. Two others sold around the same price range: “Funny Songs,” (2008, P7M) about a young boy and his stream of consciousness with comic characters and Mickey Mouse, and “Confluence” (2011, P6.5M) about lopsided architectural plans. His “Minefield,” a 2011 fiberglass sculpture, sold low for P303,680.
Three artworks of pure abstractionist Romulo Olazo (1934-2015) reached P20M and ranked sixth. His “Diaphanous, B LXXXV” (1987), a heaving but controlled overlapping of browns, light yellows, and white, sold at P11.6M. “Permutation Series II” (1994), with thin, thick, and continuous white lines that form circles, oblongs, rectangles, and triangles on pure black, sold for P8.17M. The 1993 28 x 22 “Pinwheel Series” sold for P233,600.
Former graphic artist-turned cubist artist Mauro Malang Santos (1927-2017) is Leon’s seventh with six artworks sold at P12.28M. “Mother and Child” (1997) reached P4.9M while “Woman and Wall Flowers” also sold for P4.9M. His 12 x 15 “Fruit Vendor” (1995) had an initial bid of P160,000, but was sold for P1.16M.
Two works of cubist and semi-abstractionist Vicente Manansala (1910-1981) were sold at P11.9M making him eighth on Leon’s ladder.
“Ang Pulubi,” a 1979 cubistic-expressionist mother and child, was sold at P11.68M with just the addition of buyer’s premium and VAT, from the initial bid of P10M. “Trees” (1974) was sold at P256,960. “Nude,” a 1972 representational post-coital ménage à trois, went unsold. It had a starting price of for P700,000.
Former graphic artist-turned cubist artist Mauro Malang Santos (1927-2017) is Leon’s eighth with seven artworks sold at P10.72 million. “Mother and Child” (1997) reached 4.4 million while “Woman and Wall Flowers” got P4.2 million. His 12 x 15 “Fruit Vendor” (1995) had an initial bid of P160,000, but was sold for P1 million.
Ninth placer semi-abstractionist Hernando Ocampo (1911-1978) had two artworks sold at P11.2M; “Clytaemnestra” (1970), made of red, yellow, and violet cubes, like flames that conjure the image of a reclining woman, sold for P9.92M. Two small untitled artworks with undulating organic forms sold at P1.28M million from an initial bid of P300,000.
The oil painting of surreal and hyper-realist Annie Cabigting (1971), “Kuntsmuseum” was sold for P7million, 10th in the auction ranking. Her work shows the back of a figure, with a trench coat and a hat on the shoulder, siting on a quay, facing the sea. On top of her head, at the sky, is a window that also looks like a picture frame.
Three pieces by National Artist and long-time auction star Benedicto Cabrebra reached a total of P6.3M good for 11th place, which is a surprising dip. Two of his works went unsold. His “Untitled” depicting Bambang done in 1965 was a high P3.85M while “Untitled”(back of a woman in native dress, 1984) got P1.5M. Another untitled work of acrylic on paper fetched P934,400. Girl with Chrysanthemum” (1983), which also has a woman in Filipina dress was unsold while Cabrera’s beautiful “Draped Figure” (2019), an acrylic and ink, was withdrawn by its owner. It had an abstract blue, red, yellow, and white, colors of the Philippine flag, draped over a hidden woman’s body, her presence hinted only by a thigh, leg, and curled toes at the canvas’ lowest portion.
Best of the best
Damian Domingo’s “Un Indio Noble de Manila” and “Una India de Manila” represent his tipos del pais or country types. They depict full body portraits of rich people in Philippine attire and footwear, all lavishly designed in small details by one-haired sable brush. These sold for P3.73M and P1.98M respectively. The P5.7M total is ranked 12th. Domingo (1796-1834), founded the Academia di Dibujo y Pintura in 1845, opened in Manila in 1850, and taught the western style of art making. In the auction catalog, Leon Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon said the works are among the very few that bear the signature of the artist. He said it was one of the most significant discoveries in the Philippine art world, with the pieces coming from a private American collection.
Pure abstractionist Lao Lianben’s “Asian-3” (1989) sold for P5.3M which puts the artist on 13th spot. It is predominantly white with a quiet Y-shaped calligraphy in black, redolent of meditative minimalism, and haiku-like renditions done on a big canvas.
Abstract artist Fernando Zobel and surreal painter Mark Justiniani tied for 14th place with total sales amounting to P4.67M. Zobel’s “Untitled” is representative of 40s to 60s pure abstraction phase in the country, it is almost white with a shadowy cube in black, and sold for P2.8M. His “Panadero,” done in the same vein, sold for P1.86M.
Two surreal pieces of Mark Justiniani (1966) were put on auction. But there were no takers for “Salamin,” which had a starting price of P800,000. His “Harana” is a sentimental fantasy that depicts a young man in formal attire playing the cello, and a woman violinist in Filipiniana gown, up in the sky, above the sea. It is reminiscent of the flying lovers of Russian artist Marc Chagall. It was sold for P4.67M
Post World War II Neo-realist Cesar Legaspi’s (1917-1994) ranks 15th. “Untitled,” sold for P3.73million. It is a medley of circles, cubes, rectangles, and triangles in multiple shades of red to white, which hint breasts, faces, and figures,and includes an overpowering circle. The abstraction of Legaspi was not like the pure abstraction of European artists who migrated to New York during World War I and II. Legaspi’s watercolor “Quarry Workers” (1976) and a stoneware ceramic bearing “Quarry’s” design were sold at P584,000.
Photographs courtesy of Leon Gallery