How a painting mirrored young Enrique Zóbel's bravado 2
Fernando Zóbel (left) with his nephew Enrique Zóbel, a decade after the former’s first PAG Show. Photo by Nap Jamir Sr; (Right) “Siga-Siga,” one of several paintings of Fernando owned by Enrique

The ‘Siga’ and Enrique Zóbel: How a painting mirrored a young tycoon’s bravado

A painting that used to belong in his collection is coming up for auction, and the writer Toto Gonzalez seizes the moment to look back on a visionary’s journey
Augusto Marcelino Reyes Gonzalez III | Aug 28 2022

At the upcoming Magnificent September Auction of Leon Gallery (September 10, 2PM), a very special painting by Fernando Zóbel is among the highlights. The work is special for many things: it was part of the Spanish-Filipino painter’s first exhibit which opened at the pioneering Philippine Art Gallery. There are pictures of that night which feature an ebullient Zóbel, smiling ear to ear, and the woman who began it all for Philippine abstract art, the gallerist Lyd Arguilla.

The painting, called “Siga-siga,” signed by the artist and dated 1952, is significant, too, because it captures the brash bravado of the post-war era. A sliver of a boy, a cigarette vendor, making his way on his own in a new, self-invented world. Much in the same way the entire country was, pushing out, boldly, after the tragedy and devastation of World War II. Much in the same way the artwork’s eventual owner Enrique Zóbel, nephew to the artist, was carving his own path—in his case in the Philippine business and industrial landscape which at the time was rebuilding itself.  “Siga-Siga” would be one of several paintings of Fernando Zóbel that Enrique would ultimately own.

Enrique Zobel
At the artist Zóbel's opening: Gloria Zóbel de Ayala de Padilla, Alfonso Zóbel, Fernando Zóbel, Lyd Arguilla, founder of PAG

Who is Enrique Zóbel? 

When the time came for Colonel Joseph Ralph Rico McMicking to retire from the Ayala y Compania partnership in 1967, his wife Mercedes Roxas Zóbel's nephews Enrique Olgado Zóbel (who had worked at Ayala y Compania since 1955), only son of her eldest brother Jacobo, and Jaime Pfitz Zóbel de Ayala, son of her elder brother Alfonso, were drafted to lead the family’s new Ayala Corporation.

To parallel the accomplishments of his uncles Col. McMicking, Alfonso Roxas Zóbel, and Fernando Montojo Zóbel at the Ayala Corporation, Enrique brought his own brand of raw energy, dynamism, derring–do, streetsmarts, and not to mention sheer testosterone to the family corporation. Enrique was not the classical Zóbel de Ayala gentleman—that was his traditionalist first cousin Jaime Pfitz Zóbel de Ayala who took his baccalaureate in Madrid, architectural studies degree at Harvard University, and management courses at the Harvard Business School.

Enrique was all about rawness, physicality, ambition, grit, determination, boundless energy. Machismo. Action. However, despite the seeming contrasts, both the paternal first cousins manifested the sterling qualities in business of their fathers and distinguished forebears Col. Jacobo Roxas Zóbel, Mr Alfonso Roxas Zóbel, Don Enrique Zóbel de Ayala, Don Jacobo Zóbel y Zangroniz, Don Jacobo Zóbel y Hinsch, Don Pedro Pablo Roxas de Castro, Don Jose Bonifacio Roxas y Ubaldo, Don Antonio de Ayala, and Don Domingo Roxas de Ureta. Genetics is real, after all.

Enrique Zóbel was a top–ranked polo player with a six–goal handicap, the highest for a Filipino at that time. He was an expert on horses and reared thoroughbreds. Zóbel the pilot was also a reserve officer with the rank of colonel at the Philippine Air Force.

Zobel and ‘Siga-Siga’
Zóbel and his "Siga-Siga" in 1953. From the exhibition catalogue “Zóbel: Contrapuntos,” published to accompany his retrospective at the Venice Biennale 2017.

The visionary 

Forty–one year–old Enrique took the reins at the Ayala Corporation in 1968 and he presided over its long–planned expansion and diversification. Acting for Ayala, Enrique took on banking by acquiring bulk shares of the iconic BPI, or Bank of the Philippine Islands, and becoming its majority shareholder. A visionary, he entered into semiconductor production with Integrated Micro–Electronics, Inc. He ventured with certainty into food processing with Pure Foods Corporation (now San Miguel Pure Foods Company, Inc). Enrique insisted on agribusiness for the family firm with Ayala Agricultural Development Corporation. Always farsighted in business, Enrique took on the Globe–Mackay Cable & Radio Corporation (now the behemoth Globe Telecom).  

In 1973, Ayala Corporation invited Japan’s Mitsubishi Group as partners with a 20 percent stake. It was a partnership with many mutual, productive benefits, like access to Japanese networks and technologies. Ayala Corporation finally went public in 1976 and was listed in the Makati Stock Exchange, which later became the Philippine Stock Exchange. De La Salle Santiago Zóbel School was established in 1978 in Ayala Alabang village, Muntinlupa with the generosity and cooperation of Enrique Zóbel and the Ayala Corporation. He co-founded the Makati Business Club along with Jose V. Romero, Rogelio Pantaleon, and Bernardo Villegas to address national issues pertaining to business in 1981.  

In 1983, Enrique Zóbel challenged his Roxas second cousin Andres de Montemar Soriano Jr for control of the SMC San Miguel Corporation;  he sold the Zóbel family shares to the aggressive Marcos associate Eduardo Cojuangco Jr; and he resigned perforce from the Ayala Corporation.  

Fernando Zobel and ‘Siga-Siga’
Fernando Zóbel and ‘Siga-Siga’ with Cesar Legaspi (leftmost), from the exhibition catalogue “Zobel: Contrapuntos,” published to accompany his retrospective at the Venice Biennale 2017.

Heart for the townsfolk 

The following year, Enrique’s company Ayala International Inc. proceeded to build the vast “Istana Nurul Iman,” the Brunei royal palace, at a staggering cost of USD 1.4 billion. In 1990, he established the Enrique Zóbel Foundation in Calatagan, Batangas to undertake social and economic development projects for his beloved farmers, fisherfolk, and villagers. 

The welfare of Calatagan’s townfolk had always been a high priority for him, as it was for his family and ancestors --- his father Jacobo, uncle Alfonso, aunt Mercedes, grandmother Doña Consuelo Roxas de Zóbel, great–grandmother Doña Carmen Ayala de Roxas, great–grandfather Don Pedro Pablo Roxas, great–great– grandfather Don Jose Bonifacio Roxas, to great–great–great–grandfather Don Domingo Roxas, who purchased the first hacienda. And although Enrique Jacobo Emilio Olgado Zobel was certainly a man of the world, his heart was in Calatagan, as it was for generations of Roxas–Zobel forebears.    

“We grew up as a family corporation. All our employees have been with us for ages,” he told Hyatt Magazine in 1982. “It is a family sort of relationship where you tell everyone what you are going to do, why you made a profit, why you may not be making a profit and what the problems coming up might be. If you give the right explanation— and be very honest about it—the people will believe you and trust you.”

Enrique Zobel
Enrique Zobel was all about rawness, physicality, ambition, grit, determination, boundless energy. Photo courtesy of The Enrique Zobel Foundation

The three houses 

Enrique Jacobo Emilio Olgado Zobel, or Enriquito, was the only son of Col Jacobo Roxas Zobel and Angela Calvo Olgado. He was named after his intellectual paternal grandfather Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, his father Col. Jacobo, and maverick disruptor great–grandfather Don Jacobo Zobel y Zangroniz. He spent his early years in three different residences. First is his parents’ home, a Spanish Mediterranean–style villa called “La Casona” along the old Dewey Boulevard. It was designed by society architect Andres Luna de San Pedro. 

Next is at his paternal grandfather Don Enrique Zóbel de Ayala’s home in Ermita, also designed by Luna de San Pedro. And third is in the Roxas–de Ayala–Zobel hacienda in Calatagan, Batangas, the family playground. 

The 10,000–hectare Calatagan hacienda was a prized and coveted family property and the 1930 last will and testament of Doña Carmen de Ayala y Roxas de Roxas (daughter of Don Antonio de Ayala and Doña Margarita Roxas y Ubaldo) bequeathed it to her three Zobel–Roxas grandchildren: Jacobo, Alfonso, and Mercedes, children of her daughter Consuelo who had predeceased her by 22 years.

Enriquito had a very social family life prewar at “La Casona,” with his parents Jacobo and Angelita constantly hosting big parties with President Manuel Quezon and all of Philippine officialdom in attendance. He attended De La Salle College on Taft Avenue, Manila and later the University of California Los Angeles. 

Enrique’s father Col Jacobo prized his career in the Philippine Military above all else. A close second was the country life he led at the Hacienda Calatagan —the horses, the hunts, the forest animals, the community of farmers. He served as an aide–de–camp to President Quezon. Zobel was in Bataan when it fell to the Japanese on April of 1942, and he became one of 75,000 prisoners of war. 

Stolid Col. Jacobo miraculously survived the Bataan Death March. Not being inclined towards corporate work, he sold off his shares in Ayala y Compania to his only sister Mercedes Roxas Zobel–McMicking. After his wife Angela Calvo Olgado–Zobel passed away in 1962, he married Sachiko Morita, the daughter of a Japanese banker, in 1965.

Enriquito’s mother Angela, or as “Angelita,” was an artistic soul who was fascinated with Hollywood glamour and International Society.  She liked the glamour of Claudette Colbert, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Ginger Rogers, et al. 

Angelita was in the mold of the prewar international socialites like Mona Williams, Marjorie Merriweather Post, Daisy Singer Fellowes, and Wallis Simpson, the Duchess of Windsor. She liked to have elegant studio portraits taken periodically. Once, she decided to pose with two special dogs, Afghan hounds borrowed from a friend, for effect. She was also the megashopper known to all the tony Escolta stores.  

Angelita was keen on interior decoration and Jacobo was occasionally befuddled upon returning to a newly–redone home, missing his favorite armchair: “What is this? Where is this?  Is this still my home?  Do I live here?” he would say. When World War II broke in December 1941, brother–in–law Fernando (Montojo Zobel, the artist) said matter–of–factly:  “Ah, we’ll have no problem with supplies during the war. All we have to do is go to Angelita’s bodegas. She has lots of everything!”

Siga-Siga by Fernando Zobel
Siga-Siga by Fernando Zobel, from his first PAG show and the last of its kind to come to auction. Photo by Patrick Diokno

Marriage and heartbreak 

Enrique Zobel married the artistic Rocio Urquijo of the prominent Spanish banking family.  They had three children: Jacobo Santiago, Mercedes, and Iñigo. Santiago passed away young; Mercedes married Carlo Pessina; Iñigo married Maria Cristina Cardenas.

Enrique’s and Rocio’s eldest son Jacobo Santiago Urquijo Zobel (“Santi”) passed away prematurely of pneumonia at the age of 11 in 1965. It signaled unhappy times for the Zobel–Urquijo family. In March 1978, the new De La Salle School in Ayala Alabang village was dedicated to the boy’s memory and was known officially as the De La Salle Santiago Zobel School (DLSZ – De La Salle Zobel).

Details of Siga Siga
Details of Zobel's Siga-Siga. Photo by Patrick Diokno

On 10 May 1991, a terrible accident happened to the healthy and energetic 64-year–old Enrique during a polo game in Sotogrande, Spain. He fell off his horse and was permanently paralyzed from the waist down.  For the next thirteen years—in Manila, Calatagan, and elsewhere—he devoted his energies to his foundation and doing good work.

Enrique passed away on May 17, 2004 at 77. At his interment, his son Iñigo insisted the farmers and villagers, who had always been dear to his father, lead the cortege ahead of the industrialists, taipans, and executives who had come from Manila to attend the last rites. Enrique Zobel was buried in an open mausoleum facing the sea in his beloved Calatagan.  


The León Gallery Magnificent September Auction is co-presented by ANCX, the lifestyle website of ANC, the ABSCBN News Channel. To browse the lots, visit this link. The author wishes to acknowledge “Ayala – The Philippines’ Oldest Business House” by Eduardo Lachica, Filipinas Foundation Inc, 1984; and members, relatives, friends, and associates of the Zobel de Ayala family for their recollections. 

Images courtesy of Leon Gallery