The Order of National Artists is considered as the highest national recognition given to Filipino individuals who have made significant contributions to the development of Philippine arts (Music, Dance, Theater, Visual Arts, Literature, Film, Broadcast Arts, and Architecture and Allied Arts). Fernando Amorsolo, Ramon Valera and Nick Joaquin have earned their rightful places in the roster of National Artists.
Fernando Amorsolo (May 30, 1892 – April 24, 1972)
“When I came back from Spain I did nothing but paint and paint out in the open, studying the light. Maski sa Espana kung nagpipinta ako, diyan ako nagpipinta sa liwanag na liwanag. Walang akong ginawa kundi mag-observe.” – Fernando Amorsolo
Portrait artist and painter Fernando C. Amorsolo is known for his excellent brushwork and skill in depicting light.
Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Paco, Manila. His father was a bookkeeper named Pedro Amorsolo who was married to Bonifacia Cueto. He had four brothers. They spent their childhood in Daet, Camarines Norte. Amorsolo and his family moved to Manila after his father’s death.
His love for art blossomed under the supervision of Philippine painter, Don Fabian de la Rosa. Amorsolo became his apprentice at the age of 13. He sold watercolor postcards to a local bookstore for 10 centavos each to help his family. His younger brother, Pablo followed his footsteps and also became a painter.
Amorsolo won several art competitions and earned numerous art distinctions while he was studying. He received medals when he graduated from the University of the Philippines in 1914. He became a part-time instructor in the same university.
A great opportunity opened up for him when Filipino businessman Enrique Zobel de Ayala gave him a grant to study at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain. After studying abroad, Amorsolo returned to the Philippines in the 1920s. He applied the techniques that he learned including the back-lighting technique to his artworks. This technique eventually became his trademark in the art industry.
National Artist of the Philippines for Literature Nick Joaquin described Amorsolo’s back-lighting technique as “the rapture of a sensualist utterly in love with the earth, with the Philippine sun… an accurate expression of Amorsolo’s own exuberance.”
He set up his own studio when he returned to Manila. Amorsolo’s favorite subjects were the landscape of the Philippines and the Filipino people.
His major works include the following: Maiden in a Stream(1921)-GSIS collection; El Ciego (1928)-Central Bank of the Philippines collection; Dalagang Bukid (1936) – Club Filipino collection; The Mestiza (1943) – National Museum of the Philippines collection; Planting Rice (1946)-UCPB collection; Sunday Morning Going to Town (1958)-Ayala Museum Collection.
He became the country’s first National Artist in Painting in 1972.
Ramon Valera (August 31, 1912 – May 25, 1972)
Filipino designer Ramon Valera was born on August 31, 1912. He belonged to a wealthy family. His father, Melecio was a partner of the tycoon Vicente Madrigal. Valera showed interest in fashion at a young age. His mother, Pilar Oswald was often surprised to see the dolls on their piano wearing new clothes.
He became one of the first male fashion designers. Valera had a successful career in fashion design from 1930’s to 1960’s. Some of his elite clients included former First Lady Aurora Quezon, former First Lady Imelda Marcos and actress Gloria Romero.
Valera was noted for his strong creative influence on the Philippine terno. He gave new life to the traje de boda (which modern society refer to as Maria Clara). During the early 40s, Valera designed a single piece of clothing from a four-piece ensemble made up of a blouse, skirt, overskirt, and long scarf. He transformed the traditional baro’t saya into a “single dress with exaggerated bell sleeves, cinched at the waist, grazing the ankle, and zipped up at the back.”
The designer used his remarkable talents in embroidery and beadwork to revolutionize the national costume. He gave Philippine motifs a modern touch. His brilliant craftsmanship allowed him to sew a perfect dress without using a pattern. One of his innovations was replacing traditional hooks with zipper. Valera dropped the panuelo (the long folded scarf that covered the woman’s chest) which shocked the public. Many thought of his idea as immodest but some notable women such as Mrs. Claro M. recto and Mrs. Pimitivo Lovina supported the new look. Valera incorporated butterfly sleeves which became the terno’s defining characteristic.
Up to this day, Filipino designers use Valera’s terno as a benchmark in terms of construction, beadworks, applique, and others.
Valera died in 1972 at the age of 59.
He was proclaimed National Artist in 2006. Valera is the first National Artist in Fashion.
Nick Joaquin (4 May 1917 – 29 April 2004)
Nick Joaquin was a renowned poet, novelist, poet, playwright, essayist, and biographer. He was born on May 4, 1917 in Paco, Manila. His father Leocadio Y. Joaquin was a lawyer and colonel during the Philippine revolution while his mother, Salome was a schoolteacher.
He dropped out from Mapa High School after three years of secondary education. He found classroom work boring. He used his spare time to read books at the National Library.
He began writing short stories, poems, and essays in 1934. Many of his literary works were published in Manila magazines. Some compositions were featured in foreign journals.
Joaquin is considered to be the best postwar author in the Philippines. Many of his works focused on the Spanish colonial period and the heritage of the Filipino people.
His first work entitled “Prose and Poems” in 1952 was declared by scholars as classics in Philippine writing and English. Many of his stories are continued to be read and adapted in various forms including film and theater.
Some of his notable works include “The Woman Who Had Two Navels” (1961), “The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” (1966), “The Complete Poems and Plays of Jose Rizal” (1976), “Almanac for Manileños” (1979), “Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles” (1980) , “Language of the Street and Other Essays” (1980), “Reportage on the Marcoses” (1979, 1981), and many more.
He was awarded National Artist of the Philippines for Literature in 1976.
Photos: “Fernando Amorsolo” c/o WikiPilipinas. Public domain; “Nick Joaquin” screencap from YouTube; “Imelda Marcos” screencap from YouTube.
Videos c/o YouTube.