How Amorsolo fans sought his works pre-Internet 2
Fernando Amorsolo and one of his famous works, “Dalagang Bukid (Girl with Banga)". Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery
Culture

Finding Amorsolo: How admirers of the Filipino master sought his works before the Internet age

Such is the allure of a work by Fernando Amorsolo that fans would go the extra mile and wait years to reconnect with a work that once so enchanted them
E. A. Sta. Maria | Nov 19 2021

Fernando Amorsolo is perhaps the most beloved and most recognizable artist in the Philippines. His farmers planting rice, coy ‘lavanderas’ and playful bathers are some of the most well-known vignettes of the Filipino art world. His works are not only perennial crowd-pleasers, they are also auction favorites that attract enthusiastic bidding, as in the case in almost every Leon Gallery auction. 

Fernando Amorsolo's
Fernando Amorsolo's "Under the Mango Tree". Signed and dated, Manila, 1935 (lower right), oil on canvas, 24" x 36" (61 cm x 91 cm)

The pinnacle of Amorsolo’s artistry is the masterpiece entitled “Under the Mango Tree” from 1935, which is right smack in his most sought-after decade. The painting depicts a joyful harvest scene, where a group of men and women seem to be preparing freshly picked green mangoes—and pakwan—possibly to bring to market. In it, the artist’s signature chiaroscuro is in resplendent display. 

Letters from Mrs. Weisman to learn more about Amorsolo
Letter of Mrs. Weisman to the Philippine Consulate in Chicago
Letters from Mrs. Weisman to learn more about Amorsolo
Letter of Mrs. Preston Weisman to the IBM

Recognizable as Amorsolo’s name may be, the American who acquired the painting in the pre-internet age went to a lot of trouble to research the Maestro. Letters that come with the painting reveal that its new owner Mrs. Preston Weisman wrote not just the Philippine Consulate in Chicago, Illinois but even IBM, where Amorsolo’s famous painting “Afternoon of the Rice Workers” was exhibited during the World’s Fair in New York in 1939 and was voted best painting by the fair-goers.

The Carman Family in San Juan
The Carman family in San Juan

But nothing compares to a treasure that is lost — and then found.

Such is the tale of the family of Dickerson Carman, a reporter for the famous San Francisco Chronicle who was sent to the Philippines to cover the Philippine-American War. He was a widower who would fall in love with Manila and would stay on after peace was declared and the American colonial government was firmly in place. 

The San Juan home where Girl with a Banga hung
The Carman's San Juan home where 'Girl with a Banga' hung.

Mr. Carman would make a home for himself in the town of San Juan, which the ex-pats would call ‘Little Baguio’ for its hilly terrain and cool weather. Dickerson’s son Philip would join his father in 1913 and would stay on with his wife Edna and their own little family.

The Carmans worked for Kodak and also owned a small business on the side. They lived a happy but simple life. Disaster, however, would soon strike with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the occupation of the Japanese. As American citizens, the entire family was arrested and taken to an internment camp at the University of Sto. Tomas grounds.

The San Juan home where Girl with a Banga hung
The home was returned by the Carman’s loyal Filipino staff after the war.

But the Carman’s loyal Filipino employees managed to hide the family’s treasures — including Amorsolo’s ‘Girl with a Banga’ which the family acquired from the Maestro himself in those golden years before the War, in 1937. The portrait of a smiling Filipina maiden, bursting with innocence and hope, was the centerpiece of their home.

Gen. John L. Hines
Gen. John L. Hines, a decorated war hero of World War I

During the liberation of the prison camp, Philip was killed by a Japanese bomb and his wife Edna was seriously injured. She would manage, however, to pull through, and eventually re-connect with her dutiful staff. The beautiful Amorsolo was returned to her along with jewelry and other precious objects. Edna eventually made the trip back to the United States to Rochester, New York. The ‘Girl with a Banga’ will hang in her home until she passed away peacefully in 1972 and bequeathed it to her daughter.

Gen. John L. Hines
Gen. Hines, commander of the Philippine Department, 1930-1932

Good old-fashioned war heroes are hard to come by. And you can be sure Fernando Amorsolo would paint for them when they came to town. Gen. John H. Hines was an American officer who would also come to the country to fight in the Philippine-American War, and after his tour of duty would become one of the most decorated heroes of World War I. (His glory would even make it to a US postage stamp.)

Gen. John L. Hines
Gen. Hines in a US postage stamp

Hines would be re-assigned back to the Philippines to train the Filipino army and his grandson, another future general, would come live with him in Manila. That grandson was Major General John Cleland who would become a hero in his own right in Korea and later Vietnam. “Harvest,” which is a gorgeous painting of a time of peace, is the memento that both men treasured from their time in the Philippines.

 Fernando Amorsolo's
Fernando Amorsolo's "Harvest". Signed and dated 1932 (lower right), oil on canvas, 12" x 21" (30 cm x 53 cm)

These three splendid works have, somewhat magically, resurfaced recently and are among the offerings in the upcoming The Kingly Treasures Auction which unfurls at the León Gallery on December 4th at 2 pm.

Fernando Amorsolo - Detail of a self portrait, 1942, oil on canvas
Detail of Fernando Amorsolo's self-portrait, 1942, oil on canvas

The artworks seen here are open for viewing from November 27 to December 3, Saturday to Friday, from 9 AM to 7 PM, at León Gallery, G/F Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legaspi Village, Makati City. The Kingly Treasures Auction 2021 is co-presented by ANCX.ph, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, and the lifestyle website of the ABS-CBN News Channel. 

For further inquiries, email info@leon-gallery.com or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com. For updates, follow León Gallery on their social media pages: Facebook - www.facebook.com/leongallerymakati and Instagram @leongallerymakati. 

Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery