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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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