Former president’s Amorsolo-painted portrait
While his earthly remains were being exhumed at Manila South Cemetery in Makati and re-interred at Libingan ng mga Bayani in Taguig City on February 29, The Sunday Times Magazine came face to face with a very vibrant image of former President Elpidio Quirino.
This sighting was over in Intramuros, Manila, and proved to be doubly awe-inspiring, what with a life-sized painting of the former president on display in all its glory, executed in his very likeness by no less than the great National Artist for Painting Fernando Amorsolo. Still on view at Galeria de las Islas in Intramuros, Manila, the 1948 portrait is truly a must-see, not just for art enthusiasts but patriots as well.
“I like it because of the way the light hits his face and his hands. It’s so alive,” noted Galeria de las Islas art consultant Mark Shellshear. “And the look on his face, the sense of—not overconfidence—but of assuredness. I don’t know what he was like; I still have no idea! But from this portrait, I thought he could have been a genuine character.”
Quirino, a lawyer turned statesman, rose from the ranks of public service and became the sixth president of the Philippines (the second president of the Independent Republic of the Philippines) in 1948 after the untimely demise of his predecessor, Manuel Roxas. He fulfilled the duties of the Office of the President up to 1953.
After mainly overseeing postwar reconstruction during his administration, Quirino retrieved to a private life and died in 1956 from heart attack.
The presidential portraitist
Quirino was not the first president who Amorsolo painted. The artist, who is best known for his breathtaking rural landscapes, also painted portraits of past presidents Manuel Roxas, Manuel L. Quezon, Sergio Osmeña, and Jose P. Laurel
What sets Quirino’s portrait apart from the other presidents’, however, as Shellshear pointed out, is that Amorsolo painted it before he assumed the highest office of the land. Moreover, the Quirino painting is one of the few presidential portraits by Amorsolo that was never kept in Malacañang Palace.
How then did the Quirino portrait find its way to Shellshear’s gallery? Apparently, a private collector got in touch with Galerias de las Islas to appraise and sell the former president’s portrait that had been in his possession since the 1950s.
“The portrait has an extremely good lightness—the light falling in his eyes,” said gallery owner Robert Lane. He agrees with Shellshear that the painting ably shows Amorsolo’s mastery in the use of light just as in all his other works.
“Yes, it is quite a good-looking portrait,” Lane reiterated. “It certainly is a worthy portrait.”
The valuable Amorsolo will be included in Galeria de las Islas’ Magnificent Masters’ Collection II, which will also feature “Santos and Religious Icons” (see related story) that will run from March 12 to April 1.
Given that the portrait is on sale for a substantial amount, Lane is proud to be able to exhibit it even for a limited time, believing that, as many Filipinos as possible ought to see it.
“I think a portrait of this size should belong to an institution, really, or at the Quirino ancestral house in Vigan,” said Lane. “Let’s hope it does after this exhibit.”