Leon Gallery’s yearend auction is happening on schedule this weekend, and the question on everyone’s mind is: How will the Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting perform?
The pressure is on for this fourth of a series of Anita works this year. The Filipina painter from the ‘50s has turned out to be 2021’s unlikely auction superstar—after being the top seller in the first three big auctions of the year, with accumulated sales now at P199.6 million, or almost P200 million.
The Anita from last September, “Egg Vendors” was done in the artist’s favorite egg tempera medium and sold for P63 million—even though it was a mere 13” x 16” work. It’s a beautiful serene scene depicting the artist’s signature subject: a group of women gathered together engaged in everyday chores—in this case it’s six egg sellers intensely investigating an egg under a yellow bulb. That it had a glamorous provenance, the Geronimo family of the storied Elpo Compound in Grace Park, Caloocan, only helped push its price higher.
The work slated for the auction floor this Saturday, meanwhile—currently on show along with the other auction highlights at Leon Gallery’s Eurovilla Makati address—is of a more considerable size. Called “Fish Vendors,” it is a 30” x 36” oil on canvas work signed by the artist and dated 1975. It has a more sedate palette, which is closer to the “Women with Baskets, Fish, and Crab” that sold in June for P52.6 million.
Like “Egg Vendors,” “Fish Vendors” was acquired directly from the artist, and one might say was simply destined for its owners, Dr. Roberto Macasaet and his wife Teresita.
Teresita is from the Javellana-Montinola clan. To hear Dr. Macasaet tell it, his wife, fondly known as “Tita,” was just an ordinary housewife who liked to keep herself busy with charity work. She had, however, one wish : to have her own Anita Magsaysay-Ho.
In 1975, the couple eagerly went to the artist’s latest exhibit at the Philippine Village Hotel near Nayong Pilipino— only to discover that there was just a single painting left to buy. However, Mrs. Macasaet promptly fell in love with the work nevertheless. Dr. Macasaet, a prominent surgeon who had trained in New York, found himself reaching for his checkbook. “We paid a princely sum for it even in those days but the look on my wife’s face was just priceless!” he recalled.
“Fish Vendors” would have pride of place in the Macasaet home thereafter, enjoyed by its owners, catching the attention of guests—not surprising because Anita’s works have always possessed a warm, inviting allure even as it chronicles the lives of simple Filipinas engaged in their chores.
“Fish Vendors” is a work from the rare series first created in 1975 that introduces a single bare-headed woman among Magsaysay-Ho’s recognizable bevy of females wearing kerchiefs over their hair. It’s an interesting twist that transports the viewer directly into the scene, seemingly as a participant.
Here, three fish vendors attend to the housewife: One holds up a silver-colored fish, as if extolling its virtues; another sits, her broad, flat basket (or bilao) triumphantly empty from the morning’s trading. Two fish sit on the traditional wrapping of crumpled newspaper while another, so fresh it is probably still alive, tumbles out. They are the housefrau’s purchases, and she readies small bills to pay for the catch. It’s a lovely scene to be found across the Philippines, women up in the early morning to do the day’s marketing opposite the women who wake up even earlier to work and provide those families’ meals.
Anita would always say she had a soft spot for vendors, starting from the days “when the Luneta was just across the street from our Spanish-style house.” From its windows, she would espy “many small carts selling different kinds of snacks for merienda.”
But it would be marketplaces that would ignite her imagination. “I enjoy markets wherever these may be — Quiapo, Paco, Pasig, Subic, or HongKong,” she would declare. “You see so many interesting types of people and scenes in the market. It’s a very dynamic place. I get many ideas from the marketplaces and I have a lot of admiration for the hardworking market vendors.”
By 1975 when this piece was painted, Anita Magsaysay-Ho was the most famous woman artist in the country. She had been the first Filipina to win first prize at the influential annual competition of the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP). Regarded as an important bellwether of the best of the nation’s talent, it was the 5th outing of the organization.
Anita’s win for “The Cooks” caused a sensation and there were public spats in the newspapers on who was to gain possession of it. (With utter serendipity, it was won by a wealthy market vendor from Divisoria.) Magsaysay-Ho would consistently place in the AAP’s contests, ranking alongside Vicente Manansala, Fernando Zóbel, Arturo Luz and José Joya in different years; but it was not until 1960 that she would reprise her win, this time for the artwork “Two Women.”
In her youth, Anita was a graduate of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts but went on to the Art Students League in New York and at the avant-garde Cranbrook Academy of Art. Art critic Cid Reyes would quote her as saying that she was influenced by the series of works led by The Harvesters by Pieter Bruegel the Elder depicting the lives of farmers in the countryside. One of his most famous paintings happened to be on loan to Cranbrook during Anita’s term there.
For Magsaysay-Ho, the honesty and authenticity of women at work is what characterized them as truly Filipino. It was a means for her to communicate that distinct character of our people, qualities that also make her artworks unlike any other. She would be considered one of the Thirteen Moderns; and Magsaysay-Ho would join the Neo-Realists' second exhibition at the Philippine Art Gallery on Taft Avenue in 1951. Anita would then have her solo shows at the PAG when it moved to Arquiza Street corner M.H. del Pilar and is, past and present, a pillar of Filipino artistry.
“Fish Vendors” starts at 22,000,000, which is more than triple the starting price of last September’s “Egg Vendors.” Let the bidding wars begin.
[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 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 email@example.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 from Leon Gallery