Filipina women reigned supreme at this weekend’s Magnificent September Auction 2021 at León Gallery. Balut vendors, fish hawkers and labanderas raked in millions.
The kerchief-wearing women made famous by Anita Magsaysay-Ho, this time immortalized as “Egg Vendors,” scored the highest, at no less than P63 Million, including buyer’s premium. Looking at them now more closely, they appear to be examining the very Filipino delicacy of balut by the candlelight while red eggs rest quietly on a pile to one side. “Her subject matter is always so pleasing, so easy to understand — yet is distinctively hers,” Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of León Gallery, mused.
Why is Anita most beloved among collectors? “Because she didn’t paint too many works and then only did so for her exclusive circle of friends,” said Ponce de Leon. “All the provenances of her works are thus pedigreed which add an absolute premium in the parlance of auctions.” In the case of Egg Vendors,’ provenance happens to be one of the pillars of millionaire’s row in Caloocan’s Grace Park, the architect Leo Coronel.
It also doesn’t hurt to have a famous last name such as Magsaysay, says the auction house director, further explaining the Anita allure. Anita was first cousin to one of the Philippines’ most beloved presidents, Ramon Magsaysay. She belonged to a family who had the wherewithal to go to the best art schools in the world, including the avant-garde Cranbrook Academy in the United States “which also, incidentally, produced José Joya,” quips Ponce de Leon.
“Egg Vendors” set a new world record in terms of per-square inch for all Philippine art at P288,600 pesos per square inch, the auction house director pointed out. It also beat the other Anita masterpiece in egg tempera called “Tinapa Vendors” which sold at P262,800 per square inch—also at León Gallery’s auction. While that brought in P84 Million, it was a much bigger work. “This is all based on hammer price plus buyer’s premium,” says the man behind Leon.
Meanwhile, Vicente “Mang Enteng” Manansala’s “Chismis” which featured the master as a wild-eyed fish staring up the hawker’s blouse, romped off with a cool P26 million at the same auction. “The colors, the vibrancy, and the mischievousness all added to its appeal,” remarked Ponce de Leon about the painting.
Next in the ranking is Fernando Amorsolo’s “Lavanderas” which was once owned by film producer/chanteuse Armida Siguion-Reyna. “Again, its provenance from that famous family can only have helped,” noted the gallery director, adding that a world record for 1960s-era Amorsolos also hit a new milestone in the just-concluded sale.
Other trendsetting world records were also made last Saturday for Oscar Zalameda, Arturo Luz, Louie Cordero and Abdulmari Imao.
While Anita Magsaysay-Ho was the most famous Filipina artist in the 1950s, one of her present-day equivalents may very well be Annie Cabigting. Her “À Paris Avec Une Amie Polonaise Et Un Italien,” another relatively smaller work, broke the artist’s own record established likewise at Leon, and again for a much bigger work.
The painting was in Cabigting’s highly reconizable style of a museum-goer examining a painting, this time a Modigliani. It raked in P15.2 Million vaulting past León Gallery’s own world record for the Filipina artist, previously set for the installation-sized work “Tearing into Pieces” at P10 Million.
Ponce de Leon couldn’t help but wax lyrical over the auction results. “In these times, a flight to quality has been most apparent. The seasoned collector will always pay for top marks in rarity and quality, regardless of size,” Ponce de Leon says. “The saying that size shouldn’t matter clearly holds for these superb works of art.”