Portraitists of the 19th century employed a miniaturist technique of painting, wherein much attention is given to minute details, such as the texture and elaborate embroidery of costumes, every bead or stone of jewelry, and design of domestic furniture.
The members of the emergent class were portrayed in best dress, adorned with jewelry, and surrounded with fine fixtures in posh home interiors. Portrait artists also followed certain conventions in terms of the body arrangement and facial expression of the sitter, giving enough attention even to the how the hands and fingers are positioned.
Filipino men were usually portrayed wearing their formal costume, the barong tagalog, often standing and with a book in hand. The ladies of the upper class were depicted in Sunday dress made from silk, elaborately embroidered piña, jusi, or abaca. They were ornamented with rings, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and combs or peinetas embellished with gold, pearl or diamond. The sitter would usually stare at the viewer, while holding a lace handkerchief, fan, prayer book or rosary, considered as essential props of the 19th century.
From this portrait-painting tradition of the 1930s, Fernando Amorsolo emerged as the master painter of the Commonwealth era.
Besides painting a wide array of subjects, Amorsolo was also much sought after as a portraitist. His popularity continued decades after the postwar period, peaking between the 1930s and 1950s. He was the artist of choice among rich, influential, and famous businessmen, government officials, matrons, debutantes, and their families. With commissions coming from overseas, Amorsolo’s portraits of US officials and foreign visitors in the Philippines were numerous.
Typical of Amorsolo’s portraits were those depicting beautiful, modest Filipinas, furthering his interest in capturing the ideal image of Filipino womanhood and exemplifying her traditional role in society. He painted them in the traditional baro’t saya costume, adorned with jewelry, often holding a rosary.
While subtle details of wealth, such as furniture and religious images, were often included in the compositions, he veered away from the distinct characteristic of 19th century portraiture that focused on details. Instead, his impressionistic brushstrokes sought to capture the likeness of the sitter within a timeless background.
He seated his fair, slant-eyed Tsinoy personalities in chairs, the women in either traditional Chinese (qipao) or Filipino costumes (baro’t saya) and adorned with jewelry of gold or jade. The men were already in Western suits, revealing the affluence and rising social stature they enjoyed as citizens of their newfound homeland.
Portraits, through time, convey the flavor of the era and record the physical likeness and identity of the subjects. The Tsinoys—the Chinese-blooded who established deep roots on Filipino soil, and strong bonds with the Filipino people—were also among Amorsolo’s portrait subjects. Amorsolo captured a glimpse of their historically evolving identity—at that time already relaxed, fully integrated, and secure in their position in society.
Inspired by portraits of Enrique and Maria Yuchengco in the museum collection, and aligning with the fundamental thematic thrust of the museum to highlight the culture, stories, and expressions of the Filipino-Chinese, the Yuchengco Museum joins the Amorsolo Retrospective with an exhibit entitled Mukhang Tsinoy: Portraits by Fernando Amorsolo.
The exhibit showcases a number of Amorsolo portraits of Filipino-Chinese families, some of which will be shown to the public for the first time. Among the pieces on display are portraits of Enrique and Maria Yuchengco, Mariano and Maria Limjap, Mrs Henry Uy Cho Yee, and Imelda Ongsiako-Cojuangco.
Mukhang Tsinoy: Portraits by Fernando Amorsolo is on view until January 17, 2009 at the Yuchengco Museum. The museum, which is open Monday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., is located at RCBC Plaza at the corner of Ayala and Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenues in Makati. For more details, call 889-1234 or visit www.yuchengcomuseum.org.
Print ed: 01/09