Valuable Philippine Art In Recent Years—Including A ₱130M Piece

Valuable pieces of art from masters like Juan Luna, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, and Ronald Ventura have sold for ₱32.7 million to ₱130 million.

Lifestyle Asia has covered plenty of articles on international art pieces fetching high prices at auctions and fairs, but the Philippines also has its share of coveted works from renowned Filipino artists that have sold for eight to nine-digit figures. The country is the home of masters like Anita Magsaysay-Ho and Juan Luna, after all, so having a notable collection of valuable paintings is to be expected. 

READ ALSO: Unforgettable Pieces: Looking Back At 2022’s Most Valuable Artworks With Some Worth Over $100 Million

In the last decade or so, several paintings have sold for impressive prices in both local and international auctions, like those helmed by Sotheby’s and the country’s León Gallery. 

Below is a list of these aforementioned pieces and the stories they hold: 

“España y Filipinas” (1884) by Juan Luna 

Juan Luna is among the Philippines’ oldest and most esteemed male artists, alongside names like Fernando Amorsolo and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo. As such, multiple works from the artist have fetched millions of pesos, including his piece “España y Filipinas” [Spain and the Philippines]. 

“España y Filipinas” (1884) by Juan Luna 
A close-up of Luna’s “España y Filipinas” sold by Sotheby’s/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

Sotheby’s Hong Kong auctioned the piece during their 40th Anniversary Evening Sale in 2013. It fetched a jaw-dropping price of ₱130 million, which is the equivalent of around $3.3 million

Juan Luna
Juan Luna/Photo from Wikipedia

Two female subjects—meant to be the human personifications of Spain and the Philippines—are at the center of Luna’s Neoclassical oil on canvas piece. The Sotheby’s work is one of three copies of the painting known to exist. The Lopez Memorial Museum exhibits the other piece, while the third one is unaccounted for

“Party Animal” (2017) by Ronald Ventura 

Artist Ronald Ventura made waves in the international scene when his work entitled “Party Animal” sold for ₱120.4 million (a little over $2 million) at Christie’s 20th and 21st Century Art Evening Sale on May 24, 2021. This beat the already impressive record set by his previous work, “Grayground,” which Sotheby’s sold for ₱47 million (approximately $1.1 million) in 2011. 

“Party Animal” (2017) by Ronald Ventura 
Ventura’s “Party Animal”/Photo from the Christie’s website

Reports say that Ventura is one of the highest paid artists in all of Southeast Asia. His surreal pieces usually explore and critique a variety of everyday social realities. “Party Animals” depicts a series of strange anthropomorphic characters—including a bear, two wolves, and an elk—attending a birthday party alongside two demons. 

Grayground by Ronald Ventura 
Ventura’s other valuable piece entitled “Grayground,” which sold for $1.1 million in 2011/Photo from the Sotheby’s website

New York’s Tyler Rollins Fine Arts Gallery, which exhibited the piece, stated that the piece drew inspiration from contemporary social practices and culture. 

The gallery adds that Ventura places his hybrid creatures “in scenes of merrymaking, parading, brawling, or playing sport—contexts that elicit extreme emotions but are very much part of our lived realities today.” 

“Tinapa Vendors” (1955) by Anita Magsaysay-Ho 

Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s works are some of the country’s most valuable art pieces. In fact, in 2021 alone, at least four paintings from the Filipina artist took the top spots for highest price. Her work entitled “Tinapa Vendors” broke records when it sold for ₱84 million (roughly $1.4 million)—making it the most expensive piece from her oeuvre.

“Tinapa Vendors” (1955) by Anita Magsaysay-Ho 
Magsaysay-Ho’s “Tinapa Vendors”/Photo from the León Gallery website

“There is something to be said when Anita Magsaysay-Ho went on the record to say this was her favorite work and in her favorite medium [egg tempera],” shared Jaime Ponce de Leon, the gallery’s founder and director, with ABS-CBN

Anita Magsaysay-Ho
Anita Magsaysay-Ho/Photo from Kulay Diwa Gallery via Archives of Women Artists Research & Exhibitions

As the title suggests, the artwork depicts three women selling tinapa (a type of smoked fish) painted in Magsaysay-Ho’s signature style: modernist forms paired with stylistic renderings of female figures. 

“Under the Mango Tree” (1931) by Fernando Amorsolo

No list of valuable Filipino artworks is complete without mention of Fernando Amorsolo—an artist whose works have become synonymous with bucolic Filipino life. His paintings generally sell for high prices, though his work entitled “Under the Mango Tree” was the most recent piece to make auction news headlines. 

“Under the Mango Tree” (1931) by Fernando Amorsolo
Amorsolo’s “Under the Mango Tree”/Photo from the León Gallery website

León Gallery sold the piece for ₱46.7 million (approximately $837,500) during its Spectacular Mid-Year Auction in 2018. The work bested a previous international record held by another one of the artist’s pieces by several millions, as reported by the gallery. 

The 31 x 33 inch oil paint on panel work depicts Amorsolo’s favorite subject: everyday Filipino life in the province.“ The field workers are immersed in the lush abundance of the summer harvest. Watermelons insinuate themselves from the foreground and lead the eye to rest upon the figures in the shade,” described León Gallery. “A woman sits under the sun at left, while others pause in the shade, while the hot sun beats down on the open area behind the tree at left. It is not about the fleeting light or some passing scene.” 

Fernando Amorsolo
Fernando Amorsolo/Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The gallery description also referenced a 1975 statement from the late Alfredo Roces:

“Through the 30s, Amorsolo remained highly imaginative and active, periodically going outdoors painting and seeking other subjects stimulated by the nostalgia around him for the changing country life, he painted rural life’s genre, rather than aspects of city life. Gradually, Amorsolo reached a peak in his genre repertoire.”

“Pounding Rice” (1973) by Vicente Manansala

Vicente Manansala’s “Pounding Rice” is the most recent piece in this list to have broken records. León Gallery sold it for a whopping ₱41 million (about $735,200) in their Spectacular Midyear Auction held last June 17. This makes it the most expensive Manansala painting in the country, and the second most expensive Manansala in the world.

The National Artist is famous for his depictions of both rural and city life, done in his “transparent cubist” style. The recently sold oil on canvas painting measures 51 x 40 inches and hails from the Delly Tambunting Ongsiako collection. It portrays a group of people working together to pound rice, with chickens and chicks also present in the mundane scene.

"Pounding Rice" (1973) by Vicente Manansala
“Pounding Rice”/Photo from the León Gallery website

When describing the artist and this particular work, the León Gallery had this to say:

“Captured in the work at hand is an ancient harvest ritual familiar throughout Asia, symbolizing good fortune as well as prosperity through the sweat from one’s brow. Pounding rice, after all, is both a difficult and delicate task, requiring strength to lift and lower a solid wooden pestle, with enough force to loosen the husks from the rice. Some say that it is also a metaphor for the hierarchical relationship of man and wife, defining his role as head of the family and hers, as helpmate. […] As this extraordinary work once belonged to one of Manila’s greatest merchant families, it has an even greater resonance.”

Vicente S. Manansala
Vicente S. Manansala/Photo from the Vicente Manansala Facebook page

The gallery also stated that the piece’s proceeds will be donated to notable charities, namely Leaven of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Oblate Apostle of the Two Heart, and Alliance of the Holy Family International.

“Dance of Isadora” (2003) by BenCab 

Benedicto Cabrera, better known as BenCab, is a name that many are familiar with. BenCab is a national artist whose contributions made him a “seminal figure” in Philippine contemporary art. León Gallery sold his work entitled “Dance of Isadora” for ₱40.8 million (around $731,700) during their Asian Cultural Council Auction in 2021. 

“Dance of Isadora” (2003) by BenCab 
BenCab’s “Dance of Isadora”/Photo from the León Gallery website

BenCab completed the 48 x 107 inch acrylic on canvas work in 2003. It showcases the recognizable dynamism and drama that he often deployed in pieces featuring drapery, with painted fabrics that seem to have a life of their own. 

American dancer Isadora Duncan was a favorite muse of BenCab
American dancer Isadora Duncan was a favorite muse of BenCab/Photo by Arnold Genthe via Wikimedia Commons

“This particular piece presents Isadora Duncan in the midst of what appears to be a graceful twirl, with the fabric of her costume gloriously in flight and in tune with her movement,” wrote León Gallery’s official description

“A groundbreaking artist in her own right, Duncan revolutionized the world of dance, synthesizing traditional forms with modernist movements and rhythms. Because of her revolutionary style, Duncan became one of BenCab’s favorite muses, utilizing photographs and sketches of Duncan’s dances as a way to capture her form and movement,” it continued. 

National Artist Benedicto Cabrera (L) with Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan (R) at the city's logo unveiling in 2018
National Artist Benedicto Cabrera (L) with Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan (R) at the city’s logo unveiling in 2018/Photo by Joey Razon via Wikimedia Commons

The gallery description added: “A work like this one is certainly a result of the artist’s mastery, BenCab is able to isolate the grace that often melds with the dancer’s command of the technique. We are able to see the vitality expressed, the form and beauty, all of which, principles of Isadora Duncan’s artistic language.”

Banner photo from the Christie’s website.

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