Skip to main content

The Philippine Village Life by Vicente Silva Manansala

Pamilya by Vicente Silva Manansala
Pamilya (Family)
With the completion of their new headquarters in Manila in 1961, PhilAm Life (a life insurance company) commissioned Vicente Silva Manansala to do a series of paintings for their cafeteria. (Lucky employees!) Before long these seven large-scale paintings about Philippine village life were moved to the front lobby which was deemed a more appropriate setting for the canvases. They remained there until the building was sold in 2012. Mindful of the cultural significance of the paintings and the need for its preservation and conservation, the management of PhilAm Life decided to loan these treasures to the National Museum in 2014.

“Pamilya reflects Filipino values of family solidarity and solemnity showing a common scenario of praying before sharing a meal with one’s family.” National Museum of the Philippines

Vicente Manansala
Pagkain (Food)
One of the Thirteen Moderns and Neo Realists, Vicente Silva Manansala had the good fortune to study art in Canada, the United States, France and Switzerland through a number of grants he received from UNESCO, the French government and the U.S. State Department. He studied at the Ecole de Beaux Arts under the mentorship of Fernand Léger, a French artist and exponent of cubism.

In order to understand the influence of cubism in the artistic style of Manansala, it helps to know a little bit about this particular art movement pioneered by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque in the early 1900s. There are two stages of cubism, analytical and synthetic. Analytical cubism is characterised by fragmentary forms with multiple viewpoints and overlapping planes and employing a limited palette. Synthetic cubism emerged in 1912 and is defined by the flattening of images and the application of a brighter range of colors. Notice that these seven paintings are flat compositions in brilliant colors. (Note: See how Manansala interprets multiple perspective in Harana.)

Pagkain is a “still life with food”. We can easily recognize the fishes, chicken, leafy vegetables, watermelon, a mortar and pestle, a guitar, a bowl, utensils, a bottle of wine and a cutting board. They are all carefully laid out on the table. 

Vicente Manansala
Kalabaw (Water Buffalo)
While Manansala embraced cubism, he also strayed enough away from its concepts to create his own unique brand referred to as transparent cubism. These seven paintings certainly give a nod to flat compositions and geometric shapes but the forms remain recognizable. Secondly, Mang Enteng (as the artist was fondly called), employs indigenous subjects. Like the National Artist, Fernando Amorsolo, Manansala painted objects amidst rural landscapes as we see in Kalabaw.

We can also observe urban houses in Kalabaw. The distinct triangular shape of the rooftops is in sharp contrast to the rectangular planes and lines that scurry across the landscape. And there is a young and pink water buffalo that steals the show. 

Vicente Manansala
Magsasaka (Farmer)
Manansala studied stained glass art in the United States in 1960 through a Specialist grant from the US Department of State. Making stained glass requires several steps including shaping and cutting glass, painting, glazing, connecting all the pieces together and fastening them with lead. These seven compositions appear like finished stained glass pieces with precise planes and defined lines. There is an illusion of light filtering through the paintings with the application of brilliant colors (especially yellow) just like the rays of the sun penetrating stained glass windows in darkened, medieval cathedrals. The subjects are dignified as they go about gathering rice stalks and carrying their load. A food vendor enters the scene in the center, a welcome arrival. The farmers need to take a break to eat and take a rest from the scorching heat of the fiery sun seen overhead.

“Kalabaw, Isda, Manok, Pagkain are literal and figurative images of abundance and a result of collective efforts (shown in Magsasaka).” National Museum of the Philippines
Vicente Manansala
Isda (Fish)
Before Manansala was “discovered” by art collectors, he worked as an illustrator for Philippines Herald and Liwayway magazine. As an illustrator he received a steady income while the work experience honed his drawing skills, sharpened his eye for details, and developed his ability to create a painting as richly detailed as Isda. The school of fish, the swaying marine plants, the birds, the ducks, the turtle and the big, grumpy fishes interweaving across the geometric grids speak of an abundant sea.

Isda is the only painting of the seven that is signed by the artist.  Notice his signature at the bottom right corner of the composition.

Vicente Manansala
Manok (Chicken)
Like Kalabaw, Isda and Pagkain, Manok is a “literal and figurative” painting of abundance. Notice how the roosters proudly stand in the center of the composition and how their feathers fan out like a peacock. This is a far cry from the annoying chickens that turn your garden upside down.

Vicente Manansala
In Harana, the faces of the musicians are multi-dimensional. This is the only painting in the series where we see Manansala interpret multiple perspective on human forms. The bodies of the serenaders are flat and melt into the planes. The mood is light as music permeates the cool night air.

Harana presents some of the elements of cubism: multiple perspective in the faces of the musicians (analytical cubism), flattened forms and colorful palette (synthetic cubism) and recognizable shapes (transparent cubism). According to Cid Reyes, Philippine art critic, “The genius of Manansala is that he is able to work within a western idiom and yet create a particular, totally Philippine work of art.” (From video, Layers of Light by Leon Gallery).

Harana captures the spirit of festivity among Filipinos celebrating the end of a hard day’s work.” National Museum of the Philippines

Vicente Manansala
Phil Am Life Hall, 3/f, National Museum
Vicente Manansala was posthumously awarded the National Artist Award for Painting in 1981.

National Museum of the Philippines
Padre Burgos Ave
Rizal Park, Manila
Entrance is free.


Images by TravelswithCharie


Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Carlos Botong Francisco - Progress of Medicine in the Philippines

Pre-colonial period Pag-unlad ng Panggagamot sa Pilipinas (The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines) is a group of four large-scale paintings depicting healing practices in the Philippines from pre-colonial times to the modern period. Carlos Botong Francisco was commissioned in 1953 by  Dr. Agerico Sison who was then the director of Philippine General Hospital (PGH) together with   Dr. Eduardo Quisumbing of the National Museum, Dr. Florentino Herrera, Jr. and Dr. Constantino Manahan. These oil on canvas paintings measure 2.92 meters in height and 2.76 meters in width (9.71 ft x 8.92 ft) and were displayed at the main entrance hall of PGH for over five decades. Owing to its location, the artworks were in a state of "severe deterioration" at the beginning of the 21st century from exposure to heat, humidity, dirt, dust, smoke, insect stains, grime, termites and an oxidized synthetic resin used in an earlier restoration. These canvases were restored three times, the last was

8 Heritage Houses of Iloilo

Lizares Mansion The province of Iloilo on the island of Panay has a rich trove of heritage houses, left over from the sugar industry boom in the 19th century. Iloilo also had the largest port in the Philippines at that time which facilitated the export of sugar to foreign shores and deposited money in the hands of the sugar barons. The barons dropped their earnings into the acquisition of properties in Negros and the construction of beautiful homes in Iloilo, many of which are located in the vicinity of the Jaro Cathedral. The Lizares Mansion was built in 1937 by Don Emiliano Lizares for his wife, Concepcion Gamboa and five children. The family fled to safety when World War II broke out and the house was occupied by the Japanese military. The family returned to the house after the war but left once again after the demise of Don Emiliano. It was sold to the Dominican order in the 1960s and was converted in 1978 to a private school, Angelicum School. The mansion now houses the

Filipino Struggles in History - Carlos Botong Francisco

In 1968, Antonio Villegas (then Mayor of Manila), commissioned Carlos "Botong" Francisco to paint the history of Manila for Manila City Hall. The series of large scale paintings was called  Kasaysayan ng Maynila  (History of Manila).  The paintings deteriorated over time and no attempt was made to preserve these historical canvases until 2013 when Mayor Amado Lim sent them to the National Museum for extensive restoration. Four years later, in 2017, Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada and the Manila City Council signed an agreement with the National Museum to leave the paintings at the museum so they may reach a larger audience in exchange for museum grade reproductions to replace the originals. Kasaysayan ng Maynila was later renamed Filipino Struggles in History and is now on display at the Senate Hall of the National Museum . Carlos "Botong" Francisco died in March 1969, a few months after completing the paintings. He is one of the first Filipino modernists and