This 1-dollar H.R. Ocampo made it to ‘Antiques Roadshow’ 2
A screengrab from “Antiques Roadshow” in 2014 shows an HR Ocampo being appraised. Screenshot from PBS.org
Culture

He bought an HR Ocampo for a dollar—now guess its real value according to ‘Antiques Roadshow’

When the man brought his garage sale purchase to the PBS TV show, he was surprised to learn it was worth so much more
JEROME GOMEZ | Dec 06 2021

Last week, we chanced upon an Instagram post by New York-based Filipino artist Jevijoe Vitug featuring a painting of his appearing beside an H.R. Ocampo in a collector’s ancestral home. Sadly, he said, people in the U.S. are not very familiar with the works of the “modernist master” that, at one time, an H.R. piece ended up in an “Antiques Roadshow”  episode. 

We, of course, got intrigued how the painting fared in the popular program. Jevijoe posted an excerpt of the episode, the full clip of which is on the PBS website. It was aired December 2014, which is seven years ago, on the show’s 18th season. For those who are not familiar with “Antiques Roadshow,” it’s where people get the shock of their lives when it is revealed that an item they purchased in a flea market, or discovered inside their attic is just, well, junk—or a treasure worth thousands of dollars, thanks to the appraisal of an expert on hand (there’s a hilarious “Will & Grace” episode on this that you can watch on Netflix). 

HR Ocampo
HR's painting shows puzzle-like pieces in different color tonalities, which characterize a great many of the artist’s works. 

In the case of the episode that featured the H.R. piece, the appraiser was Aaron Bastian, described in the PBS website as “the senior specialist in California and American paintings at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco,” and was trained as a cataloguer of both American and European paintings. 

In the Antiques Roadshow clip, Bastian is shown speaking to an Asian-American man who brought with him a painting by Hernando R. Ocampo, signed and dated 1977. It is of the familiar H.R. style that shows puzzle-like shapes in different color tonalities, which characterize a great many of the artist’s works. 

The guy who owns the painting, sporting a plaid shirt, brown shorts and glasses, says he purchased the piece from a garage sale. He and his wife had just bought a new place, he told Bastian, and they were driving around one day and spotted the sale. The guy was somehow drawn to the H.R. work which, he said, was even covered in dirt when he first laid eyes upon it. “Hey, honey, let’s look at the painting,” he told his wife who immediately thought the H.R. painting was one of the “not-so-beautiful paintings” in the sale. Apparently, even the lady seller didn’t think much of the artwork—she was selling it for a dollar.

The man even remembered the wind blowing the painting over and how, as it fell, it acquired a few tiny damages—but the man picked it up nevertheless and took it home for, yes, a dollar. Intrigued by the name on the canvas, the buyer looked it up online and found “he’s some National painter in the Philippine.” 

HR Ocampo
The painting was signed by HR Ocampo and dated 1977.

He would find out more from Bastian at "Antiques Roadshow."

“The painting is signed and dated 1977, and it is by Hernando Ocampo. He died in 1978 so this is quite late for his work,” said the appraiser. Bastian said that while most painters find themselves in the high point of their career during its early years, it was interesting to note that the opposite is true in H.R.’s case. He added that H.R. started as a serious painter in 1938 and was part of the group called “13 Modernists”—or 13 Moderns to be correct about it. They were a stellar group of modern Filipino painters who distinguished themselves from the classical painting styles and conventions of the pre-war era. This group included Botong Francisco, Cesar Legaspi, Vicente Manansala, and Anita Magsaysay-Ho. 

“And his work completely transformed over the course of his life,” Bastian added, addressing the owner of the painting. “You’ve probably heard of Amorsolo who’s the most famous of the Filipino painters,” said Bastian before touching on the Filipino master’s influence on the work of the young H.R. 

“And then by 1968 he was into this kind of format,” said Bastian, describing the style of the painting in question, “which is abstracted but it’s inspired by the Philippine flora and fauna, this sort of tonally unified approach. The painting is executed in oil on canvas and this is fairly typical for the size that he did with his late work.”

Then talk finally came down to price. “What’s interesting about this work is that locally at auction I think right now, in 2013, you’d be looking at an estimate of 4 to 6,000 dollars [for the painting] but interestingly enough, and this wouldn’t be too much trouble, if you get it to Hong Kong, which is where the market really is, you’d be looking at a value of 7 to 10,000 dollars.” 

When Bastian said 4 to 6,000 dollars, the owner of the painting just made an “Mmm” sound. But when he was told the work could sell for 7 to 10,000 dollars, the man said, “Wow, fantastic,” before unleashing a full smile. 

Of course, an HR Ocampo painting can sell for more these days—all depending on the rarity, beauty, condition, and provenance of the artwork. An H.R., in fact, dated 1964, just sold for P45.5 million over the weekend at the Leon Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction, while a work closer to the style of the painting in “Antiques Roadshow” can go for around half a million pesos. 

Meanwhile, Americans should have a better idea who H.R. Ocampo is from hereon, considering the National Artist is part of the landmark show “Surrealism: Beyond Borders” ongoing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. H.R. is represented by a work from the personal collection of premier tastemakers Paulino and Hetty Que. The show, which opened in October and will run up to end January 2022, traces the history of the surrealist movement and its ripples across 45 countries.