THE MAN WHO MADE 'MARCA DEMONIO'
"When he was nine, his brother-in-law gave him a Christmas
present of drawing
paper and colored pencils. Since this was the first time he saw colored pencils, he
drew more pictures and the family believed he would become a great artist,
though his father wanted him to become a lawyer, and his mother wanted her son
to go into business.
"At thirteen, he entered the Liceo de Manila. Later he moved on to the School of
Fine Arts and became a pupil of Miguel Zaragoza, Rafael Enriquez; and Fabian de
la Rosa who, by the way, was a cousin. He was one of the first graduates of the
U.P. School of Fine Arts in 1914. He would best other painters in Manila in
painting contests and was thus appointed instructor in the School of Fine Arts.
"He made a living through commercial art, that is, illustrations for newspapers,
posters, calendars, advertisements and programs for the Manila Carnival. These
brought him immediate money and, of course, he was then able to paint some
pictures which really satisfied his artistic taste.
"His drawing of the Ginebra San Miguel 'Marca Denionio' label attracted the
attention of Enrique Zobel de Ayala, who sent him to Madrid with an allowance
of 100 pesos monthly, 80 pesos of which he sent to his first wife, Salome Jorge.
He was supposed to spend six months in Madrid, three in Paris and another three
in Rome. But the last two cities were in shambles after World War 1, so he never
made it to Paris and Rome. He spent a year in Madrid, studying at the Real
Acadenda de Bellas Artes de San Fernando [incidentally the same school that
Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Jose Rizal and other Filipino expatriates
attended] and viewing the works of Sorolla, El Greco, Goya, and Velasquez in the
"On his way back to the Philippines in 1920, be passed by the United States and
sold some of his paintings done in Spain to make ends meet. Speaking of sales in
the U.S., in 1925 Army Captain Robert J. Kennedy asked him to exl-~ibit in the
Grand Central Galleries in New York. He sent 32 paintings for sale, and 21
paintings with price tags from $40 to $750 were sold within two hours of the
opening, setting a record for foreign paintings sold in that gallery.
"Father used to say in 1929 that 90 percent of his paintings, including his
most ambitious ones, fell into the hands of foreign patrons, mostly
Americans. Only 10 percent went to Filipinos, who pretended to under-
stand his work, or had a vague suspicion of their value. Yet the low price
of paintings then compared to now made it difficult for an artist to live.
"My father used to say that the source of his inspiration were 'nature and
books, and, of course, the desire to paint as I feel and not as others dictate
or in accordance with someone else's taste.'
"Every Saturday, he would take his canvas and paintbox, hop into his car
with his family and go someplace where nature was undisturbed by man-
made machines and views. Then he would go back to his studio and
painted to his heart's content.
"He was such a simple man that it was only in his later years that he
managed to buy a house and lot, and this only at the prodding of his,
second wife, Maria del Carmen. He had always opted for a rented apart-
ment on Azcarraga [now Claro M. Recto Avenue]. Realizing that his
large brood was growing up fast, he was prevailed upon to acquire, with
much reluctance, a small lot and house. I guess that the rented apartment
on Azcarraga was some sort of landmark to him, having raised his family
there and having reaped all the rewards of his career there. He was that
CITY-BRED FILIPINOS today don't see women washing their laundry in
clear bubbling brooks anymore. Neither do they see people planting rice
nor pretty women in a baro't saya peddling freshly picked fruit or
vegetables. In the age of the washing machine and air-conditioned super-
markets, these rustic images still live in the Filipino consciousness partly
due to the bright, cheerful canvasses of Fernando Amorsolo, which arc
copied, forged and reproduced by the thousands in calendars, posters,
postage stamps and tourist brochures. These popular paintings depicting a
pastoral Philippines evoke nostalgia for a period prior to the horrors of
.the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation of the islands, which
Filipinos used to call "pistaym" ("peacetime").
Though born in Paco, Manila, on 30 May 1892, during the tail end of the Spanish
colonial period, Amorsolo's childhood was spent climbing fruit trees, swimming
in water holes, or playing in the ricefields and abaca plantations of Daet,
Camarines Sur. His life was far from the violent vortex of the Philippine
Revolution against Spain launched by Andres Bonifacio in 1896, the
establishment of the First Philippine Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo in 1898,
and the eruption of the Fil-American War in 1899.
When Amorsolo's father died, the family returned to a peaceful American-
occupied Manila to stay with his maternal uncle, Fabian de la Rosa, then the
most eminent painter of the country. The 13-year-old Amorsolo could not but be
awed by the cosmopolitan character of the capital, yet he retained a deep
yearning for his carefree days in Daet which would reveal itself in his paintings
over a decade later.
The U.P. School of Fine Arts would only open in 1909, so Amorsolo, who already
had a passion for drawing in his childhood and made extra money in Daet by
selling small watercolor landscapes, began to receive encouragement and
exposure to painting in his uncle's studio. He learned much by simply watching
Fabian de la Rosa paint and draw. Meeting other artists, who were his uncle's
friends, also proved educational.
He swept the maestro's studio clean, washed paint brushes, and was sent to buy
supplies at El 82, an art store founded by the patriot, Roman Ongpin, and
managed by his son, Alfonso. The store's walls were lined with one of the fimest
collections of Philippine paintings. In this shop, Amorsolo had gazed at the
original works by the nineteenth-century masters, Juan Luna y Novicio and Felix
Resurreccion Hidalgo. There were, of course, "contemporary" paintings, which
included the work of his uncle. Much later, Amorsolo's paintings would also find
their way to Ongpin's shop.
There were no commercial art galleries at the time, so artistic activities were held
in the many social clubs where people came for regular dinnerdances. Some of
these were the Club Filipino, Smiles Bachelors, and Kahirup. Writers also formed
their own literary associations. The Tagalog writers banded together, Spanish writers
formed their group, and so on.
Musicians had the Circulo Musical whose members
Abelardo, Tereso Zapata and many others from the U.P. Conservatory of
Music. Its rival association was the Asosacion Musical which had
Alexander Lippay, Francisco Santiago and Jovita Fuentes on its roster.
These associations sponsored musical soirees and concerts, giving Manila
a chance to hear the associations' musicians and their compositions.
Likewise, the artists formed the Asosacion Internacional de Artistas,
which sponsored art exhibits and competitions. Out of delicadeza, the
older established painters like Fabian de la Rosa labelled their works hors
concours, or "not in competition." It was in one of these contests spon-
sored by the Asosacion Internacional de Artistas that the young Amor-
solo won prizes and recognition as one of the promising young painters in
AMORSOLO'S CREATIVE PEAK began from the early 1920's during this
prewar period called "peacetime." He was prolific because in those days,
one could not live purely on art, so Amorsolo had to teach at the U.P.
School of Fine Arts and at the same time do commercial or illustration
work for advertising agencies and the press. Finding time to paint in be-
tween these two demanding jobs was quite a feat.
Today the word "illustration" is looked down upon by artists who can live
on painting alone. However, no one can find fault with Amorsolo's so-
called commercial illustrations not only because they were well done, but
also because many have become national icons, like the Ginebra San
Miguel label, now more popularly known as "marca demonio," or il-
lustrations in the early Tagalog novels, Parusa ng Diyos by Severino
Reyes and Madaling Araw by Iffigo Ed. Regalado. Generations of
Filipinos learned their English through the Camilo Osias Philippine
Readers series, not knowing these were illustrated by Amorsolo.
Before the war, the Philippine went through a sociocultural ferment.
English was fast replacing Spanish as the fashionable language, the lan-
guage spoken by the powers-that-be, proof that the last vestiges of cen-
turies of Spanish colonization were being swept away by the steady
Americanization of the Filipino largely through an efficient public school
system. The Americans were so successful that in a few years, many
Filipinos began to look at themselves and their own
culture as inferior to
that of the West. Fortunately, the ideals of Jose Rizal and die Philippine
Revolution still lived in the hearts of some Filipinos, who steadfastly
refused to toe the American line that the Filipinos were incapable of self-
government. The constant intramurals between Manuel Luis Quezon and
the American Governor-General Leonard Wood made this clear. Then, of
course, there were the numerous "independence missions" sent to the
United States and the colorful squabbles between the political parties-
Federalistas, Democratas, Nacionalistas and their members.
Politics was only one of the pastimes in Manila. "Peacetime" was the era
of the annual Manila Carnival, and the kundiman of Nicanor Abelardo
and Francisco Santiago. Atang de la Rama was the Queen of the Zar-
zuela, which was then competing with the movies once silent but later
had "learned to talk." While Amorsolo was busy with Carnival posters,
his friend, the sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, also did some commercial il-
lustration work in between moulding statues for the mausoleums of the
wealthy, busts of Carnival queens in Philippine costumes, commissioned
work and finally, his masterpiece, the Monument to Andres Bonifacio in
Caloocan, then the gateway to Manila from the north. It is now a national
icon found at the northern end of the Light Rail Transit, in a place simply
called today as "Monumento."
Amorsolo glorified the rural, contrasting it with the urban. This was clear
in a comic strip, Ganito Pala ang Maynila, serialized in Bagong Lipang
Kalabaw. This strip, attributed to Amorsolo and Lope K. Santos, showed
the travails of the provinciano who travels to the capital and gets into
trouble because of his naivete. Pushed to its comic limits, Amorsolo and
Santos constrasted the childlike innocence of the rural person against the
materialistic and exploitative city creature.
A Hispanized Filipino, Amorsolo lived at the crossroads of a changing
physical and cultural landscape. His "historical paintings" extolled out
Catholic-Spanish past by depicting subjects like the "First Baptism,"
"First Mass," "Conversion of Humabon," among others. But there were
no paintings of the Philippine revolution. The closest he would come to
capturing misery and desolation would be the paintings and sketches done
during and after the Liberation of Manila in 1945.
Since the Manila where Amorsolo lived was becoming a fast-paced city
compared to Daet, painting a landscape from rural life would mean
making a trip to Marikina, Antipolo, or Bulacan. Then Amorsolo would
withdraw into his studio, infusing his first genre painting, Rice Planting
(1922), with his childhood memories. He romanticized a difficult and
mundane task like working in the ricefields under the burning sun, turn-
ing it into a piece of beauty on canvas. Farmers and their women looked
happy; even the carabao seemed to smile under Amorsolo's deft brush-
strokes. Amorsolo's paintings provided comfort to urban people who
came from the province, or who once knew or lived in a peaceful idyllic
Philippines. Amorsolo captured the spirit of the age, the pastoral life of
"peacetime" Philippines, freezing it on canvas for later generations to see,
and to dream about.
(17 June 1989)
Ocampo, Ambeth R., "Aguinaldo's Breakfast," Anvil Publishing, Inc. 1993.