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Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto

Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto: Fernando Amorsolo 1892-1972

Fernando Amorsolo 1892-1972

Filipino

1892 - 1972

Fernando Amorsolo y Cueto, one of the most important painters in the canon of Filipino art, is primarily known for landscapes that captured the everyday scenes of his rural country, and for his portraits, often of sensual female bathers.

Amorsolo was born in 1892 and lived in a rural area with his family until the death of his father, at which point Amorsolo’s mother moved the family in with her relative, genre painter Fabian de la Rosa. De la Rosa apprenticed the 13-year-old boy, who also helped support his family by selling watercolor postcards at a local bookstore for ten centavos apiece. After winning numerous prizes for painting throughout his school years and graduating with honors from the University of the Philippines School of Fine Art, Amorsolo began his career as an art instructor and commercial artist.

Three years into his career Amorsolo received a grant to study at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. Throughout his time in Spain he studied the works of El Greco, Goya, Monet, Manet, Van Dyck and Sargent. Amorsolo was particularly influenced Diego Velasquez’s brushwork and mastery of color, and Joaquin Sorolla’s use of dramatic contrast between light and shade, and would employ and perfect similar techniques in his own works. As part of the grant, Amorsolo was also able to travel to New York City, where he was exposed to postwar impressionism and cubism, which also became significant influences on his work. After his return to Manila, Amorsolo painted prodigiously throughout the 1920s and 1930s, gaining wide popularity both in the Philippines and abroad.

Amorsolo’s paintings exemplify a masterful use of light, often demonstrating "Chiaroscuro", an Italian term describing the contrast between light and dark to achieve the illusion of three dimensions, especially in human figures. In a typical painting, Amorsolo outlined figures against a characteristic glow, as if they are bathed in sunlight. His paintings are also noted for their craftsmanship, with confident and precise brushwork and thin applications of paint.

Amorsolo’s bright pastoral images, which were often optimistic portrayals of traditional culture, customs and occupations, helped define a national Filipino identity for a country that, within Amorsolo’s lifetime, was under both Spanish and American colonial rule before finally achieving independence following World War II.

During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the war, Amorsolo, who lived near a Japanese garrison, captured the death and destruction he saw around him. His brother, branded a Japanese sympathizer, was executed by Filipino guerillas. His paintings from this period are dark and desolate, a stark contrast to his peacetime works.

His popularity rebounded quickly after the war, so much so that he created a “catalog” of his work, mounting photographs of his paintings in an album and having his customers select a theme for their commissioned pieces. Despite also working as an instructor and director at the University of the Philippines, he averaged ten paintings a month, perhaps motivated by the necessity of feeding his large family of fourteen children. Throughout his career his work was seen in books, cartoons and commercial designs. He painted oil portraits of all of the Philippine presidents, revolutionary leader General Emilio Aguinaldo, and General Douglas MacArthur.   

Four days after his death at age 79 in 1972, he was honored as the first National Artist in Painting at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

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