Fernando C. Amorsolo, named National Artist in Painting in 1972, was the first Filipino to ever be given that distinction. He was also called the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art” at the inauguration of the Manila Hilton’s art center, where his paintings were exhibited, on January 23, 1969. His works covered a wide range of subjects, but he was best known for his idealized female images of the dalagang Filipina. He also painted scenes of traditional Filipino customs, fiestas and occupations, and series of historical paintings on pre-Colonial and Spanish Colonization scenes. He preferred to paint in natural light and developed the backlighting technique, which became his trademark.
Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Paco, Manila. His parents were Pedro Amorsolo and Bonifacia Cueto, and his brother, Pablo, also became a painter. After his father died, the family moved to Manila to live with his uncle, painter Fabian de la Rosa, who eventually guided him to engage in painting. His mother did embroidery to earn money, and he helped her by selling watercolor postcards to a bookstore for 10 centavos each.
Amorsolo studied at the art school of the Liceo de Manila, where he earned honors in painting and drawing. After that, he entered the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts, where de la Rosa taught. During his years there, he was much influenced by Spanish painter Diego de Velazquez and other European painters. To make ends meet, he joined competitions and did illustrations for different publications, like Severino Reyes’ first novel, Parusa ng Diyos. He graduated in 1914 with several medals for excellence.
After graduating, he joined the UP as an instructor while he worked as a draftsman at the Public Works and as chief artist at the Pacific Commercial Company. He taught for 38 years and was director of the School of Fine Arts from 1938 to 1952, when he retired to devote his time to painting. He also did work illustrating children’s textbooks and magazines.
He had further artistic training in 1916, when businessman Enrique Zobel de Ayala gave him a grant to study at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s, his peak years, he widely exhibited both here and abroad. Some of the exhibitions are the Exposicion de Panama in 1914, a one-man show at the Grand Central Gallery in New York City in 1925, and a one-man retrospective at the National Museum in 1948. Aside from these, he also received many honors and distinctions for his works.
On April 24, 1972, Fernando Amorsolo succumbed to heart failure in Manila.
His major works include:
- 1920 – My Wife, Salud
- 1921 – Maiden in a Stream, GSIS Collection
- 1922 – Rice Planting
- 1928 – El Ciego, Central Bank of the Philippines Collection
- 1936 – Dalagang Bukid, Club Filipino Collection
- 1943 – The Mestiza, the National Museum of the Philippines Collection
- 1946 – Planting Rice, UCPB Collection
- 1958 – Sunday Morning Going To Town, Ayala Museum Collection
Among his awards are:
- 1908 – 2nd Prize, Bazar Escolta (Asocacion Internacional de Artistas), for Levendo Periodico
- 1922 – 1st Prize, Commercial and Industrial Fair in the Manila Carnival
- 1929 – 1st Prize, New York’s World Fair, for Afternoon Meal of Rice Workers
- 1940 – Outstanding UP Alumnus Award
- 1959 – Gold Medal, UNESCO National Commission
- 1961 – Rizal Pro Patria Award
- 1961 – Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities, from the Far Eastern University
- 1963 – Diploma of Merit from the University of the Philippines
- 1963 – Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award, from the City of Manila
- 1963 – Republic Cultural Heritage Award
- 1972 – Gawad CCP para sa Sining, from the Cultural Center of the Philippines