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The 1950s Pinay painter is the star of today’s auctions

By on September 11, 2021 0

His “Tinapa sellers” sold for 84 million euros in February, by far the biggest source of money in this big auction which opened the year. Four months later, his “Women with Baskets, Fish and Crab” fetched 52.6 million pesos at the spectacular mid-year auction, overtaking a Vicente Manansala as well as a Fernando Amorsolo who, as “Women with Baskets” depict scenes from the Filipino market.

The “egg sellers” of Anita Magsaysay Ho

While another painting by Anita Magsaysay-Ho takes center stage this weekend at the Leon Gallery’s September auction, an image titled “Egg Vendors” made in the tempera medium at the artist’s favorite egg, with a starting price of 7 million pesos, the question arises: How do this woman’s paintings attract collectors today? Or in other words, how did a 1950s artist become the sensation of the 2021 auction?

For Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of the Leon Gallery, the lady’s accomplishments, her stature in Manila society and the limited works she left behind are the reasons why an Anita remains highly desirable almost a decade later. his passing and more than half a century after the defining years of his career.

“She didn’t paint much and only painted for her close circle of friends,” says Ponce de Leon, the force behind the country’s leading auction house. “Thus, his pieces have above all a cachet, because his circle belongs to the highest echelons of Manila. The provenances are all genealogical and this is already an absolute bonus in auction jargon.

Anita Magsaysay Ho's
“Women with Baskets, Fish and Crab” by Anita Magsaysay Ho

When we think of Anita Magsaysay-Ho, we think of her women wearing bandanas in rural areas happily doing everyday things – images inspired by the summer vacation she spent in her native Zambales. She has created iconic images of women making even the most ordinary tasks extraordinary. Her success puts her in the spotlight and equals the troupe of neo-realists and modernists, almost all of them male except Nena Saguil and Lyd Arguilla.

Daughter of an engineer named Ambrosio Magsaysay, brother of Philippine President Ramon Magsaysay, Anita studied at the UP School of Fine Arts where she was trained by Fernando Amorsolo and Fabian Dela Rosa, pillars of Filipino art. Later, while enrolled in the UP School of Design, Anita would have the privilege of having Victorio Edades as one of her instructors.

Having the means to continue her studies abroad, the young artist left for the United States in the 1930s and took oil painting classes at Cranbrook Academy in Michigan, and drawing classes at the Art Student’s League of New York.

She was the first woman to win the grand prize of the prestigious Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) competition in 1952. Looking at auctions for her paintings these days, it’s been compared to watching a Wimbledon match with its fast, non-stop volleys, fighting over the artist’s work isn’t exactly a recent occurrence. His winning AAP ’52 entry, “The Cooks,” quickly sparked a high-profile contest to own it as influential newspaper columnists and wealthy collectors vied for this treasure, even resorting to grappling in the press for it. privilege.

Robert Ho and Anita Magsaysay-Ho
Anita with her husband Robert Ho.

A few years later, Anita would be even more firmly established. In May 1956, The Sunday Times Magazine – one of the most widely read newspapers in the Philippines with a circulation of 1 million copies per day – called her “The Greatest Woman Painter in the Country Today” in an article titled “Mrs. The women of Ho.

Anita’s market paintings would then be justifiably famous. The Sunday Times continued to speak eloquently of the artist, citing famous American writer Agnes Newton Keith, in her book “Barefoot in the Palace” on post-war Filipino life, saying: “(His) market women are thin, pointed, skinny, talkative. They are both cunning and generous, both skeptical and believing. (Anita is) sorry for them because she knows she doesn’t have to be. her gods were wealth and sweetness of life, she would paint pathos and weakness on those faces. Instead, (she) put mysticism, strength, love and zest for life.

Anita married Robert Ho in 1947 and gave birth “in quick succession” to five children, one of whom would become the figure of the company and the fierce businesswoman Doris Ho, now President and CEO of the Magsaysay Group of Companies. The Hos “have lived in over 30 homes in more than six countries over a period of 50 years,” a story tells of Tatler in the Philippines. They would settle in Hong Kong for a while where the couple would host dinner parties for select friends from Manila, as longtime boyfriend Charito Panganiban-Melchor and daughter Doris friend Monique Villonco recall.

Those who talk about the allure of an Anita painting spring from her aura of serenity, her sense of humor and the glow that seems to emanate from her women who happily indulge in the day’s toil. “I think it’s so beautiful because it has a magical side to it,” says chef Margarita Forés of ‘Egg Vendors’. “I love the warmth of it.”

Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan
Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan where Anita studied before the war. Image courtesy of Galerie Léon

Having been painted during the country’s post-war years, Anita’s works also embody this spirit of timeless hope, to move forward no matter the odds. And maybe that’s why his paintings continue to resonate. Was there ever a time when this country needed more hope?

With the obvious clamor for his works, one must ask the question: are there still Anitas waiting for their moment at auction? “Definitely,” says Jaime Ponce de Leon. “There are still some in Anita’s small circle of friends. We should see a small appearance at auction with the dissolution of the large estates. But for egg distempers, “egg sellers” might be among the last to hit the market. They are extremely few. ”

[Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery]