The fabulous lives of the art world Ossorios 2
Hernando R. Ocampo's "Mutants" (left); Alfonso Ossorio with one of his celebrated “Congregations". Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery

The fabulous Ossorios: Life in Rolls Royces, East Hampton homes, and art world cliques

The Ossorio name lends its weight this December to three important lots at the upcoming Kingly Treasures Auction. Here’s why the surname matters
ANCX Staff | Nov 29 2021

There are three lots that carry the illustrious name “Ossorio” in the upcoming Leon Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction. First, there are the two vibrant works on wood by the abstract expressionist Alfonso Ossorio, the man famously responsible for the mural “Angry Christ” at the St. Joseph The Worker Chapel in Negros, close friend and artistic influence to the American painter Jackson Pollock. 

The third lot is the HR Ocampo painting called “Mutants A,” an extraordinary work originally acquired from the artist by Frederic Ossorio, considered a key collector of HR’s works, at the inaugural show of the Ocampo-founded Gallery 7, one of the earliest commercial art spaces in the Philippines. 

Hernando R. Ocampo's
Hernando R. Ocampo's "Mutants". Signed (lower right and verso) and dated 1964 (lower right), oil on canvas, 40" x 30" (102 cm x 76 cm)

The Ossorios were of Filipino-Spanish descent but would become American citizens. They were involved in the business of shipping and sugar, and they were famously known for their expensive and sophisticated leanings. One could say they were masters in making art as well as in the art of living.

Frederic Eugene Ossorio was born in Manila, on July 13, 1919, the younger brother of Alfonso who is better known in collectors’ circles. Alfonso would become a friend of Jackson Pollock and a member of the Abstract Expressionists. He would hold court with members of the New York art world at his legendary estate “The Creeks” in East Hampton. Another brother, Robert, would found the Manhattan Festival Ballet company.

Alfonso Ossorio with Jackson Pollock
Ossorio with his French poodle. Jackson Pollock is on extreme right, seated.

Their mother Maria Paz, “Pacita” Yangco was one of the daughters of Don Luis Ronquillo Yangco, who in his heyday was dubbed ‘The King of the Pasig River and Manila Bay”, thanks to a fleet of 148 ships, 12 Chinese junks and a steamboat that docked all over the Philippines.

The pater of the family was Don Miguel Jose Ossorio whose family was also of substantial means, since he was sent to be educated in St. Edmund’s in Ware, England, the oldest Catholic school in that country, and afterwards at the Christian Brothers School in Gibraltar, which educated only the children of the well-to-do.

Don Miguel would wed Pacita in 1910 and appears to have struck out on his own in the shipping business, with his own freighters operating between the Philippines and the rest of the Pacific islands. He would soon find his metier, which was sugar — first establishing the North Negros Sugar Company in 1917, followed in 1919 by the Victorias Milling Corporation, both in Negros Occidental. Victorias would eventually become one of the world’s biggest sugar refineries.

Not much remains on record about Pacita apart from a delicious footnote in the Rolls-Royce records of July 1934 of her purchasing an extremely rare and expensive Phantom II Continental Sedaca coupe, with the annotation, “Madame Ossorio, who maintains a residence at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel, purchased the Rolls-Royce through London agent Captain H.R. Owen and specified that her car be built “for use in the UK mainly touring at comparatively high speed.”

She would, of course, need the automobile to tool around the country to visit her sons. Frederic, like all his brothers, would be sent to study in English boarding schools in Bath and Malvern; and then go on for higher education in the United States. He would earn a degree in European History at Yale University and go on to the Harvard Business School when after just one year, war would break out and he would quit to enlist.

He would wind up as part of the unit celebrated in the film “The Monuments Men”, members of the U.S. army who would rescue important works of art from the Germans during and immediately after World War II. He would be credited for assisting in the recovery of Van Gogh’s Field of Poppies near Auvers-Sur-Oise, from the Lauffen Salt Mines in Austria where it was secreted along with other artistic treasures pillaged by the Nazis. The Van Gogh is doubly significant because it is among the last that was ever painted by the artist.

HR with Gallery 7 founders
HR Ocampo with Gallery 7 founders

Frederic would return to Manila after the War to head the sugar enterprise Victorias Milling Company founded by his father. The family followed paternalistic practices and even determined that they would compensate all their workers the three years that the enterprise had stopped business during the Japanese occupation.

While it is his brother Alfonso who is more famous for painting the mural of the “Angry Christ”—by which title the Church of St. John the Worker has become world-renowned (thanks to coverage by Life Magazine)—it was Frederic’s brainchild to actually build the church as a way of bringing the community together after the trials of the war. He selected the foreign architect, Antonin Raymond, to design it; he can also be credited for the church’s avant-garde character. He flew in his brother to create the motif for the altar; while in the sanctuary, another florid work of art, a diptych painted by Belgian ecclesiastical artist Countess Adelaide de Bethune is to be found.

Frederic would move back to the United States in the late 1960s, serving on the board of his family’s sugar corporation in the country while still maintaining close ties with the Philippines. He would also continue to pursue his abiding interest in art, collecting works not only by his brother but other significant artists of the 20th century. With his wife Siena, he would later donate various artworks in their collection to the university museums of Harvard, Vassar and Yale as well as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Smithsonian Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. 

As mentioned, it was Frederic who first acquired the 1964 “Mutants A” from the artist HR Ocampo. He is furthermore listed in the biography, titled H.R. Ocampo : The Artist as Filipino by Angel G. de Jesus  (1979) as part of the list of  HR’s key collectors on page 204; the list was made by the artist himself and culled by De Jesus from that personal register.

Like his father before him, Alfonso Ossorio—whose creation of the “Angry Christ” mural was turned by the Palanca-winning Floy Quintos into a play in 2017–would be shipped off to various English boarding schools in his youth before going to the United States. There, the Fil-Am Ossorio was enrolled in the Portsmouth Priory, a Benedictine abbey, on Rhode Island, and his graduation would make the society pages (alongside a lunch tendered by Mr and Mrs W.H. Vanderbilt on their yacht). 

In 1934, Alfonso entered the hallowed halls of Harvard University, emerging in 1938. He would take up residence a few years later in a ranch in New Mexico where he would meet the gallerist Betty Parsons, who was then also vacationing in the desert sands. Parsons was a divorcee whose family had lost their fortune and is said to have hocked her engagement ring to bankroll her artistic career. She would invite Alfonso to join her roster of artists, which eventually included Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, as well as the then-equally unknown Jackson Pollock, who would become a great friend and ally to Alfonso in the Abstract Expressionist movement.

Alfonso Ossor
#8: '59 by Alfonso Ossorio. Signed and dated 1959 (verso), sand, pebbles and resin on wood, 48" x 5" (122 cm x 13 cm) (framed).

The work up for bids on December 4 called entitled #8:’59 reflects the influence of Pollock, not least of all the raw energy embodied in the work — and the numerical, impersonal titles. It would also be the harbinger of Alfonso’s most famous works, what he called “Congregations” or assemblages for which he would become best known for. 

For Alfonso, the choice of the word “congregations” had religious resonance, his wild, weird and wonderful aggrupations were intended to be like a flock of the faithful, bound together in a single act of worship. In many ways, they were the sum total of his experiences as an artist, dating from his early years exploring primitive art at Harvard, his exposure to Celtic iconography, even the Filipino folk references in his St. Joseph the Worker murals, and the experimentalist perspectives of Abstract Expressionism. Even his interactions with the mosaic tables created by Lee Krasner, Pollock’s widow, would figure into these works. For Alfonso,“congregations” were the three-dimensional progression of his earlier works. “There was no way of stirring things up enough by doing it with traditional means,” exclaimed Alfonso to one interviewer.

This series returned the artist to his surrealist roots (although he would refuse to be pigeonholed by that term), utilizing a variety of “sought” objects (versus “found”). The work #12:59, meanwhile, foreshadows his “Congregations” in full bloom, a protoype of the works he would show in 1961, when he participated in the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit, “The Art of Assemblage.”

Alfonso Ossorio
#12: '59 by Alfonso Ossorio. Signed and dated 1959 (verso), oil, white lead impasto on wood, 48" x 5" (122 cm x 13 cm).

Alfonso’s other term for these obsessive treatments were “horror vacui” (the fear of empty spaces), filling like his good friend Pollock the “canvases” end to end, tampering with traditional vanishing points, breaking all the rules, and building them up again. He sought new materials and new effects. It was to become the style Alfonso Ossorio would be best known, at least to a new generation of critics and collectors. 

[The artworks for the upcoming Kingly Treasures Auction are available 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, the urban man’s guide to culture and style, and the lifestyle website of the ABS-CBN News Channel. 

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

Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery