by Raul Agner 2/29/08
They are similar to Picasso's "Guernica," at least in the sense that they were repatriated after a long sojourn in a foreign land. Lucky for AdU. It is now the proud owner of three priceless Amorsolo paintings after Mrs. Sofia Adamson generously bequeathed them to the University upon her death in California on May 19, 2007.
"Fruit Harvesting" (1950), "Sunset Over Malabon Fish Ponds" (1950), and "Portrait of Sofia Adamson" (1963), all done in oil on canvas, are now part of the University's small but growing art collection that includes an Abueva, Izon, Lamarroza, Vicaldo, Rosel, and Razo. The first two were hand carried from the States by Mr. Nick Adamson, nephew of Sofia, and turned over to the University on June 19, 2007. The last one was brought in by Fr. Gregg L. Bañaga, Jr., C.M., University President, last October 17, 2007 on his way home from an official trip to the U.S.
Mrs. Sofia Adamson acquired the paintings during her brief stay in the Philippines. The wife of the late George Athos Adamson, former Dean and Professor of the College of Engineering, she taught in the school in 1939 and was at one time Directress of the Junior Normal College. Gravely wounded during the war, she and George settled permanently in Pasadena, California in 1946, going back occasionally to the Philippines on business trips. In her home city, she became active in its arts and culture program, later co-founding the Pacific Asia Museum which to this day remains an important cultural icon in the area.
Fernando C. Amorsolo's daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Amorsolo Lazo, whose expertise is sometimes sought by Christie's Auction House for verbal verification of Amorsolo pieces, certified that the three oeuvres are original and authentic. She noted her father's distinctive brushstrokes, touch, color, and some markings on the back of the frame and canvas. She also appraised them, stating each painting's current value verbally.
As part of the University's 76th Foundation Anniversary celebration, the Cultural Affairs Office, through its Director Mrs. Nenita Dimapilis, organized a formal unveiling and public viewing of the artworks last February 11, 2008 at the SV building ground floor hallway. Preceding this were two lectures that were conducted at the same building's lobby: one on "The Life of Fernando C. Amorsolo," by Prof. Anthony Lim of Adamson University and another on "The Works of Fernando C. Amorsolo," by Prof. Don S. Amorsolo, a grandson of the artist who is an artist and educator in his own right. Adamson University administrators, faculty, employees, students, and guests from other schools and institutions came for the lecture and the three-day exhibition.
Of the three paintings, the 16" x 20" "Fruit Harvesting" appears to be the most 'Amorsoloesque.' It depicts a rural scene bathed in tropical light whose intensity is foiled by a thickly foliated tree. Underneath the tree are two women clad in typical and colorful baro't saya attire busily gathering the day's fruit harvest. It is easy to recognize here the influence of the Spanish painter Joaquin Sorolla whose works delighted in the magic of light as it washed the landscape and fell on figures and forms.
"Sunset Over Malabon Fish Ponds" also measures 16" x 20." It captures the stillness that awaits the impending distant tolling of church bells for the "Angelus," if the purplish church silhouette in the background, gently contrasting with a fiery orange sky, should serve as an indication. The Monet-like rendition of the pond that foregrounds the landscape hints at the artist's love affair with impressionism. While the nipa hut, tree, and bamboo in the middle ground may be recurring elements in a Filipino rural scene, still they are rendered in a way that only the painterly mastery of the late National Artist can achieve.
If these two paintings teleport us back to the '50s and '60s era, when calendars and postcards featured the ethereal masterpieces of Amorsolo, his "Portrait of Sofia Adamson" suggestively shows that he was no mean portraitist. This 40" x 30" painting is a three-quarter portrait of the subject in a formal, light steel-blue dress that has long diaphanous sleeves. The young and congenial Sofia Adamson is captured with a very fine touch that probably no other Filipino portrait artist can match. Her soft smile adds to the general air of lightness of the painting that appears to have thin applications of color.
Much as the University would like to enshrine these artworks in a secure permanent exhibit area within the campus, pending that, it cannot. It has no choice but to loan them in the meantime for an indefinite period to the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. Its exhibition facilities are excellent and secure. Moreover, the museum's director Mr. Eric Zerrudo says that the loan is very timely in view of the planned multi-museum retrospective on Amorsolo in September 2008 to January 2009 that includes the Metropolitan. If this pushes through, which expects to attract a spillover of visitors from the Beijing Olympics, then museum goers by the busloads can see these Adamson treasures.
Of course there's no place like home for our Amorsolo paintings. Once permanently displayed in the University where they rightly belong, the university community will have all the chance to enjoy their aesthetic beauty. More importantly, it can learn values and ideas that the artist wanted to convey, notably, among others, the need for a caring and reverential relationship with God's creation: nature and the environment.