Edades: How an OFW changed the path of Philippine art 2
Victorio Edades (left) and his work titled “Poinsettia Girl”. Left photo from the book “Edades: National Artist” by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Ma. Guerrero; right photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

Victorio Edades: How an OFW changed the course of Philippine art

As a major Edades comes to auction this month, we reflect on the true contribution of the Father of Philippine Modern Art
EA Santamaria | Jun 03 2022

There is a theory about human relationships that goes like this: Each of us is separated from the other—think of it as a form of social distancing—by six other people. Six degrees of separation. The distance between one person and his friend is 1 degree, and 2 degrees for the friends of that friend and so forth.

In this way, one—Victorio Edades included—could be related to the President of the United States or Harry Styles or Christian Amanpour or Anna Wintour. Consider this example—which also happens to be true: 

Victorio Edades
Victorio Edades, Father of Philippine Modern Art, used to can salmon during his days in the US. Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Our man Edades founded the UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts. 

He mentored Botong Francisco who he also recruited to teach at UST. 

In 1940, a pretty young thing named Salvacion Lim enrolled in UST in Fine Arts. Botong was her teacher—he said she had “fine color sense.” 

Lim would become a famous fashion designer beginning in the Fifties, eventually founding the fashion school SLIM’S—where Michael Cinco went to study. 

Cinco is friends with Lesley Mobo who has designed for Bond Girl Lea Seydoux who’s ended up in Vogue which is, of course, edited by Anna Wintour.

Edades was one of a long line of OFWs—Filipino Overseas Workers who had immigrated to the United States to work, to can fish in particular, settling in Seattle where he found the climate relatively mild. And then something happened: he discovered Cezanne, Gauguin and Diego Rivera—then decided to come home.

Back in his home country, he was stunned that Filipino art at the time was dominated by Fernando Amorsolo and his tribe. In 1928, Edades put together what was thought to be the first exhibition of modern art. It was nothing short of remarkable although he said that it did not make a ripple. The art cognoscenti did not know exactly what to think of the works: There were no brightly lit landscapes, no lithe women nor smiling dalaga. Instead, Edades painted solid, substantial figures, in dour colors, browns, tans and earth tones.

It would take the artist nearly eight years to make a dent. Meanwhile, the winds of change would blow into the country: A new constitution in 1935, the inauguration of the Commonwealth in the following year, and the prospect of self-governance, suffrage granted to women. Exciting times indeed.

Edades and Juan Nakpil stand before the mural, a tribute to rice farmers, done for the Nakpil residence. Photo from the book “Edades: National Artist” by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Ma. Guerrero

In 1936, he was given his first commission by the architect Juan Nakpil for the Rufinos’ film palace, the Capitol Theater. He would recruit for it a protege, Carlos “Botong”Francisco, along with his best friend, Galo Ocampo. The work was called, suitably, “Rising New Philippines.” It would establish the artists as a triumvirate of modern art, voices to be reckoned with, their platform the most-visited location in Manila.

Edades would eventually settle in at the University of Santo Tomas where he established not only the Department of Architecture but also the College of Fine Arts, recruiting like-minded individuals for the faculty — Manansala, for one — and teaching many other future stars including Nena Saguil and Anita Magsaysay Ho. He would become the art world’s beloved and eternal mentor — at one point even becoming the president of the Philippine Art Gallery, the country’s first gallery dedicated to the cause of abstract art.

“Poinsettia Girl by Victorio Edades
“Poinsettia Girl” has become an iconic work from Edades’ fifth solo show. Signed and dated 1976 (lower right), oil on wood board, 28" x 24" (71 cm x 61 cm). Courtesy of Leon Gallery

In March 4, 1976, he would have his fifth solo show — note that his very first had been almost 50 years or half a century before — held at the Metro Gallery in Makati. It was an auspicious date since on opening night he received word that he would be named the fifth National Artist for Visual Arts. 

A painting from that momentous exhibit, “Poinsettia Girl,” has remained in a single collector’s hands until fairly recently. It now graces the cover of Leon Gallery’s Spectacular Midyear Auction 2022 catalogue, and is clearly one of the upcoming auction’s highlights.  

Victor Edades
The artist painting in his studio. Photo from the book “Edades: National Artist” by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Ma. Guerrero 

“Poinsettia Girl” has become one of Edades’ most iconic works: It has been documented in multiple publications and was the star of the show ‘Edades in Retrospect” at the Museum of Philippine Art in 1980. It features an unsmiling woman who is however festooned, impervious to the flowers of Christmas, also known as the pascua, that surround her. The intense ruby color is repeated in her frock and maquillage.

The poinsettia, which came to the Philippines like Edades from across the seas, is originally from Mexico and traveled here on the Manila galleons. The legend goes that it was an offering of a poor boy to the Child Jesus on Christmas day—not finding a suitable gift, he cut a branch of a plant on his way to church. As he laid it at the feet of the Child, the plant’s leaves turned bright red, the stars twinkled and lit up the entire village.

The same can be said for Edades’ gift to Philippine modern art. Through his teachings and mentorships, he would “create the environment for Modern Art, pre-figuring in theory as well as in practice” the “reigning ‘international style’ of contemporary Philippine painting.” His citation for National Artist reads further: “ending decisively the isolation of Philippine art from the currents of International culture.” 

Photo of the Capitol Theater lobby showing the mural, 'The Rising New Philippines'
Photo of the Capitol Theater lobby showing the mural "The Rising New Philippines." Photo from the book “Edades: National Artist” by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Ma. Guerrero. 

He would put together a group that he called the Thirteen Moderns. He would thus become the hub that connected the spokes of the wheel of modern Philippine art — and “would live to see Philippine painting transformed through his teachings.” That group would inspire Roberto Chabet, the next-gen mentor who would found the 13 Artist Awards for the CCP and blaze new trails and forge new visions. It was after all Edades’ greatest contribution — like the poinsettia bringing light to an entire village —his emphasis on new perceptions as the true spirit of art.

[Leon Gallery’s Spectacular Mid-Year Auction 2022 is happening this June 11 at 2PM. Co-presented by ANCX, the auction gathers a staggering 142 lots made up of art from Filipino masters and contemporary artists, as well as precious antiques. To browse what’s in store, visit the Leon Gallery website by clicking on this link.]