Inang Bayan by Vicente Manansala

In Philippines

Finding Manansala: Tracing the works of a National Artist for Visual Arts

My first encounter with the National Artist Vicente Silva Manansala was in 2015. It started with a fancy case of knowing someone sharing the same family name1 with the National Artist. But when I started digging in to the Artist’s profile, I got flooded with interesting stories, anecdotes and his most sought-after artworks.

Prior to this, I had no knowledge or any information about the existence of Manansala. Except for the times I had to accompany my brother to awarding ceremonies where he won several arts competitions during college, I never had any involvement with the local art scene. Names of the National Artists I am most familiar with I had known from news reports, movies and television. It was unfortunate that the names mentioned were most often limited to Abueva, Malang, and Ang Kiukok2. Sadly, there was never a mention of Manansala.

“Pila sa Bigas” (1979) by Vicente Manansala. Starting bid: P12,000,000.00. Photo from León Gallery Auction e-catalog.

In 2015, writer and columnist Jessica Zafra wrote about an art auction happening at the Leon Gallery which included Vicente Manansala’s “Mother and Child”. Having just recently learned about a Manansala painting of the same title, I alerted the writer about a possible fraud (the “Mother and Child” by Vicente Manansala currently hangs at the Singapore Art Museum). I was told that the Manansala on offer is similar to that one, but painted later. The piece in question was from 1971, the one in Singapore was from 1965. Artists did paint the same subjects over and over again.

Curiosity struck, I searched online for possible reports of actual forgery involving the National Artist, and surprisingly there were so many. Rumor has it that there is a warehouse-full of fake Manansalas waiting for an opportunity to be sneaked into auction houses by unscrupulous promoters of dubious art pieces.

Fake Vicente Manansala paintings, drawings and other artworks

May 2012, an oil on canvas painting similar to the “Birdman” (1973) by Vicente Mansala was being sold at Christie’s Hong Kong for its Asian 20th Century Art auction. It was listed as “The Bird Seller” and was signed and dated “Manansala ’76.” An art collector who noticed something peculiar with the painting reported the piece to members of the Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc. (a group of art collectors dedicated to the protection and promotion of the works of the late National Artist) who acted it upon themselves to be the ad hoc authenticators.

The painting was immediately removed from the auction. Otherwise, it could have sold for at least HK$400,000 (or US$51,000).

In the last quarter of 2015, a popular art collector (and Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc. member Cora Lopa) was mortified to know that one of Manansala’s drawings under her possession was actually being offered to one of her friends. The artwork in offer was a fake and the actual piece is still hanging on her den. The said art collector is a close friend to Mang Enteng (as his friends fondly called him) and his wife, and had been frequenting the artist’s studio home in Binangonan, Rizal until his death in 1981. Such is her knowledge of Manansala’s works that days after the incident, two other fake Manansalas were brought to her attention. Three fake Manansalas in just one month.

My interest with Vicente Manansala’s works just got bigger and bigger from then on. There must be something so special about his works that made the Artist a popular target of many forgers, both local and international.

Vicente Manansala Gallery at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts

I visited the Holy Angel University in Angeles, Pampanga to ogle at some of his works at the recently inaugurated Museum of Kapampangan Arts. The moment I walked into the guard house at the University’s main entrance, a menacing rain suddenly poured. Instead of a bad omen, I thought it was an invitation from the maestro for me to stay longer in his gallery. Water leaked from the ceiling and into the third hall of the museum, which explains the presence of Manong and his ever-reliable timba. Mang Enteng would have created another great masterpiece out of this scene.

Vicente Manansala Gallery at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts

Mang Enteng would have created another great masterpiece out of this scene.

Vicente Manansala's Artist Paraphernalia

On the left of the photo are two versions of the popular series “Pila sa Bigas3.”

Vicente Manansala's Art Paraphernalia

Vicente Manansala’s art paraphernalia4.

Every elaborate piece of Manansala ever existed originated as mere sketches which evolved through numerous studies and revisions until it arrive to a form closest to his artistic visions and to finally materialize into an actual mural or painting. The huge collection of the National Artist’s sketches and studies at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts is a testament to his distinct workflow.

The Manansala Gallery initiated by the Center for Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University contains the artist’s memorabilia, art paraphernalia, and other personal effects originally housed at the Vicente Manansala Historical Shrine (his former studio house in Binangonan, Rizal). The gallery was inaugurated in March 2012.

Some of the more notable collections displayed in the exhibit are the “Parisian Boudoirs” and the artist’s studies of the “Stations of the Cross” from which full-scale paintings at the Church of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines (Diliman) materialized.

“Parisian Boudoirs” (1950-1951)

A collection of eight large charcoal on paper portraits collectively known as “Parisian Boudoirs” hanging at the gallery are some of Manansala’s creations while learning cubism under Fernand Leger in Paris from 1950 to 1951. He was the first Filipino to receive the Ecole de Beaux Arts French government scholarship at the University of Paris.

"Parisian Boudoirs" by Vicente Manansala

Two of eight “Parisian Boudoirs” by Vicente Manansala (Paris, 1950-1951).

Despite having studied under one of the pillars of Cubism, Manansala never took after his guru nor after Picasso whom he idolized. Instead, he further developed his own style in Cubism, which was later called Transparent Cubism. This is evident in his more recent masterpieces rendered in the popular art medium.

Sketches and Studies of the “Stations of the Cross”

Manansala believed that the true beauty of art lay in the process of creating it. And as reflected with the collection of his sketches at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts, all of his works started with studies, sketches, and numerous variations until he attained the structure that would eventually be transformed into fully realized works that are now part of the his many legacies.

Manansala Studies of the "Stations of the Cross"

Manansala Studies of the “Stations of the Cross” for the Church of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines Diliman Campus.

The “Stations of the Cross” was one of the most important commissions of Manansala. Those who have marveled at the actual murals installed at the Church of the Holy Sacrifice in UP may find it difficult to believe those where the original forms or sketches for the fourteen marterpieces.

“Inang Bayan” (1975) at the Philippine Heart Center, Medical Arts Building

Art is like love. At times you can’t have it, so you just content yourself with distant admiration. And in the case of “Inang Bayan” at the lobby of the Philippine Heart Center in East Avenue, Manila, you can’t even photograph it. Having been allowed photography (no flash) at the National Museum and the Museum of Kapampangan Arts, I was surprised when I was revoked permission to photograph the mural. But rules are rules, I checked with hospital authorities and was advised to submit a formal request to the Executive Director. Which I did immediately and received permission.

I was wondering why photography is being prohibited when the Mural was one of the most publicly available among the Artist’s works. It dawned on me later that the reason could actually be it’s being the most open for public consumption that it is more exposed to risks of getting damaged. Being in the era of social media, people who may be carelessly taking their photos in front of the mural may cause damage to it.

“Inang Bayan” (1975) by Vicente Manansala, Medical Arts Building, Philippine Heart Center, East Avenue, Manila.

The mural “Inang Bayan” is one of the most controversial commissions of Vicente Manansala. In 1975, founding chairman of the Philippine Heart Center for Asia and former First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the artist to create the mural for the lobby of the hospital’s Medical Arts Building. The mural depicts the former First Lady as the mother of the country (Inang Bayan) which sparked uproar from militant groups against the Marcoses. During that period, the sole reason of being linked to the First Family was enough to stir a controversy.

On February 28, 2011, the National Museum declared the mural an important cultural property.

Vicente Manansala Collection, National Museum of Fine Arts, North Wing Galleries

The National Museum of Fine Arts has became a treasure trove of various Manansala masterpieces and as of 2014, three galleries have been exclusively reserved for the works of the National Artist.

 Click on the photos to enlarge. 

GALLERY XXII

In 1962, the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) commissioned the National Artist to paint two murals for their Los Baños Headquarters. In 2014, in joint efforts with the Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc., IRRI subjected the two murals to a proper restoration and relocated to the National Museum where the Artist’s legacy can be more protected and preserved. The two murals are currently housed at Gallery XXIII of the National Museum of Fine Arts.

Vicente Manansala International Rice Research Institute Series (1962)

Vicente Manansala International Rice Research Institute Series (1962)

Gallery XXIII – (Government Service Insurance System) GSIS NORTHWEST HALL

"Planting of the First Cross" (1965) Vicente Manansala

“Planting of the First Cross” (1965) Vicente Manansala

The GSIS hall contains several masterpieces from the Government Service Insurance System collection, collection donated by the Manansala family, and a few others from the National Museum collection, including a large oil on canvass “Planting of the First Cross” (1965).

"Bayanihan" (1979) Vicente Manansala Oil on Jute

“Bayanihan” (1979) Vicente Manansala Oil on Jute

"Abstract Nude" (Paris 1950) Vicente Manansala Charcoal on Paper

“Abstract Nude” (Paris 1950)4 Vicente Manansala Charcoal on Paper

The bronze “Bust of Vicente Manansala” (1998) by National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva is also present in the gallery. The bust was donated by the Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc. to the museum in 2013.

Gallery XXV – PHILAM LIFE HALL

Following the sale of the old Philam Life building to SM Development Corporation (SMDC) in 2013, the seven murals commissioned by the insurance firm from Vincnte Manansala in 1961 were on indefinite loan to the National Museum so they can be protected and preserved, as well as be more open for public appreciation.

The seven murals depicting rural life, Manansala’s usual art subject, are altogether unique and inseparable with each other as only the seventh panel (“Isda”) bears the signature of the National Artist. According to FMFI President Maritess Pineda, the murals have received several purchase offer including one amounting to a nine-digit figure.

Philam Life Manansala Series (1) "Manok"

Philam Life Manansala Series (1) “Manok”

Philam Life Manansala Series (2) "Kalabaw"

Philam Life Manansala Series (2) “Kalabaw”

Philam Life Manansala Series (3) "Magsasaka"

Philam Life Manansala Series (3) “Magsasaka”

Philam Life Manansala Series (4) "Pamilya"

Philam Life Manansala Series (4) “Pamilya”

Philam Life Manansala Series (5) "Harana"

Philam Life Manansala Series (5) “Harana”

Philam Life Manansala Series (6) "Pagkain"

Philam Life Manansala Series (6) “Pagkain”

Philam Life Manansala Series (7) "Isda"

Philam Life Manansala Series (7) “Isda”

The Philam Life mural series are now located at Gallery XXV, National Museum of Fine Arts.

The Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc.

Mang Enteng’s just lucky. There’s no other group like us. There’s no Friends of Botong Francisco or Friends of Fernando Amorsolo.Cora Lopa

In 1981, after a number of dubious works claimed to be made by the late artist had been passed around after his death, a group of women composed of his followers and supporters formed the Friends of Manansala Foundation, Inc. with the aim of condemning fraud and misrepresentations, and to promote and preserve the legacy of the master modernist. Rather large at formation, the group has now been reduced to three (Cora Lopa, Maritess Pineda (FMF president), and Mita Rufino) owing to natural attrition.

The three were friends with Mang Enteng and his wife Hermenegilda. Until the artist’s death, they used to frequent his home studio in Bingangonan, Rizal, eagerly waiting for a painting to be completed and be distributed among them.

In an interview with BusinessWorld, Maritess Pineda (FMF president) narrated how on the artist’s birthdays, they would race to his house at midnight as the first one to get there and greet him would be given an artwork.

Though not a member of the Foundation, Ronna Manansala, the Artist’s only granddaughter from his only son Emmanuel, has been helping with the Foundation’s activities and other events pertinent to the promotion and preservation of her grandfather’s legacy. She is also an artist in her own rights.

If only one other person were to appreciate my work, it would have been worth it.Vicente Silva Manansala, National Artist (1982)

Vicente Manansala was truly a master of his craft. His trademark Transparent Cubism creates a feeling of flow and movement. Like watching a synchrony of delicate pieces of colorful silk consciously disintegrating and reintegrating into a carefully crafted feast for the eyes.

Collectors and art enthusiasts go gaga over the works he left. As I was writing this piece, one of his versions of the popular series “Pila sa Bigas” (1979) was up for auction at the León Gallery with a starting bid of P12,000,000.00.

A year after his death, Vicente Silva Manansala was posthumously conferred the title National Artist in 1982. A native of Macabebe, Pampanga, he was the first Kapampangan to be declared a National Artist for Visual Arts.

During my last vacation, I visited friends at the UST Office for Student Affairs with the intention of visiting some of Manansala’s works at the UST Museum and his murals at the San Martin de Porres Building (Faculty of Medicine). However, the current activities being held at the University made the visit impossible.

But this is just the beginning of my search for the works of National Artist Vicente Silva Manansala. And it has, in fact, became quite ambitious with the inclusion of his works on display at other art museums located internationally. Below is just a few more list I have yet to cross.

  • The University of Santo Tomas Museum (Manila)
  • Church of the Holy Sacrifice, University of the Philippines (Quezon City)
  • Vicente Manansala Shrine (Binangonan, Rizal)
  • “Freedom of the Press” Mural for the National Press Club (Location Unknown)
  • Brass murals of Economic Progress at the Merchants Bank Lobby (Ermita, Manila)
  • The Singapore Art Museum
  • The Honolulu Museum of Art
  • The Philippine Center (New York City)
  • The Lopez Memorial Museum (Manila)
  • Private Manansala Collection of FMF members Maritess Pineda, Mita Rufino, and Cora Lopa.
  • Other Private Manansala Collection

If you’re reading and willing, please send me an email at tenthousandstrangers@gmail.com

Notes

1. In 2015, I was reading a news article about the planned demolition of the iconic Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which was designed by none other than Leandro Locsin, National Artist for Architecture. In the news article, the name of the National Artist was mentioned and as I side searched for his profile, I stumbled upon another article about the Church of the Holy Sacrifice inside the University of the Philippines Diliman Campus. The church was designed by Locsin and while the interior was a collaboration of four other maesters who are now all National Artists – Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok, Arturo Luz, and Napoleon Abueva.

That was my first encounter with the name Vicente Silva Manansala.

2. Ang Kiukok was Vicente Manansala’s apprentice during his six years of teaching at the University of Santo Tomas College of Fine Arts.

3. There is an old article at BusinessWorld about one of Manansala’s drawings (“Pila sa Bigas”) breaking world auction record for a Filipino drawing. A photo of the artwork sold attached on the drawing was strikingly similar with one of his versions of the subject displayed at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts. Whether the photo attached was just a representation of the drawing or not is yet to be verified. Otherwise, something’s amiss. Click here for the clipping of said article.

4. The Abstract Nude from the GSIS collection was marked Paris ’50. Whether it was originally part of the eight portrait series “Parisian Boudoir” at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts is yet to be confirmed. A smaller framed version of the artwork (perhaps, a copy) can also be seen on top of one of the artist’s tables at the Manansala Gallery at the Museum of Kapampangan Arts.

Acknowledgement

Ten Thousand Strangers would like to thank the following who helped in the completion of this work.

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