Urban Trek: Encounter with the Masters, National Museum of the Philippines

There are only two pieces of art I own and love dearly (excluding tons of literature): a 2×2 abstract which was given to me by the painter himself, Ivan Acuna, and a small painting of monks on a pilgrimage, bought for cheap at the Ayothaya floating market. I’ve played the part of a mere observer and not a collector, because guess what folks, unlike books, acquiring  paintings means I scrimp and skip lunch until I’m 102 years old. No go.

The National Heritage Month (May) here in the Philippines may be over but museum fees are still waived every Sunday, and mere spectators are always given a chance to view the work of the masters. I went to the National Museum just last weekend as a reponse to my friend’s challenge–go there alone and get spooked. It turned out to be productive.

National Museum of the Phillippines

The NM is split into two buildings, first is the National Art Gallery which houses the works of Amorsolo, Luna, Manansala, Hidalgo, Botong Francisco, Isabelo Tampinco, and Guillermo Tolentino, among others–two floors, 12 galleries, including one dedicated to the Dimasalang Exhibit. On Sundays, it could get pretty crowded, especially in the hall where the Spolarium is displayed.

Juan-Luna-SpolariumThis piece is dated 1884–created by Juan Luna for the Madrid Art Exposition. It earned him a gold medal, the applause of critics, and friendship with the King of Spain. About a decade after, he would go back to the Philippines only to be arrested on the grounds of being in cahoots with the revolutionaries (whaaaat!?). Apparently, going against the colonial government is more hideous versus, say, killing your own wife in a fit of jealousy. Ooops.

Juan-Luna-1Juan-Luna-Bran-StarkThe early Luna paintings are so hipster. He even painted Isaac Hempstead-Wright before he officially became Brandon Stark, clairvoyant and potentially Lord of Winterfell! Lol!

Jokes aside, you’d be glad to know that another painting of his, Parisian Life (aka Interior d’un Cafi, branded as a “minor Luna”) is also exhibited at the GSIS gallery. Lo and behold! A piece bought at P45-million, roughly 1-million dollars by GSIS Chair Winston Garcia (a move heavily defended by Bienvenido Lumbera and the National Center for Culture and the Arts). I cannot complain! My photo may suck, but not this painting!

Parisian-Life-Juan-LunaAn then in another gallery, you would see the work of his contemporary, Jose Rizal–a terra cotta sculpture called Mother’s Revenge, being ignored by the kids and their parents, perhaps, thinking it’s just a random paperweight. But wait, I’m no devout art student. The only reason I looked at it is the dog! Never mind the exploitation of indios. Poor dog! Let go, you motherfucking croc!

Rizal-Sculptor-RevengeAnother museum highlight would be the Amorsolos. What delighted me during this visit are not just the art pieces, but also the literature that came with it. It saved me the trouble of Googling while viewing. Take this excerpt from the gallery that displayed his sketches:

“Amorsolo did hundreds of drawings. For him nature was truth. It was truth with a thousand faces: a certain smile, a certain expression or a unique gesture. Truth for Amorsolo was not a matter of documentary veracity but simply a question of credibility: a believable point.”

Look at this painting called the Burning of Sto. Domingo. The fire burns and it feels real.

Bombing-ofAmorsolo is a UP-educated painter (*props*)–he knew how to use light better than 10-million Instagram photographers out there. Haha! Imagine waking up inside one of his paintings, say, Tinikling or Antipolo. I guess it would seem like waking up to an eternal (distinctly Filipino) summer.

Amorsolo-TiniklingOf all the Amorsolos displayed in the museum, I think this unfinished portrait is the one people remember the most. Why? Mahirap burahin sa isip ang unfinished business. Hahaha! Ok, I’ll stop.

Amorsolo-UnfinishedFinally the Manansalas. Now the painter is close to my heart because I came from the University at the Foot of Mount Makiling. Yep! There is a Manansala plastered on the wall of the International Rice Research Institute cafeteria, which is our go-to place for Saturday breakfast / brunch. Young Vicente ran away from home when he was still naive and full of bravado, eventually found himself working for the Philippine Herald. And that is where he became friends with H.R. Ocampo and Botong Francisco.

Manansala-IRRIManansala-Irri-2Manansala-Carabao-HeadsManansala-Bahay-KuboManansala-2In truth, I would like to take just one of his paintings home and hang it by the dining area. But I am poor, and perhaps I could only afford a square inch. :p

The National Art Gallery is the first part of my museum adventure. There is another building right across, called Museum of the Filipino People, having all the goodies from natural history and archaeology (from the Laguna Copper Plate to Cordillera Cloud Rat taxidermy). Yes, kids, this is the spooky part! But I will write about it another day.

My NM experience was quite overwhelming because it gave me a broader sense of history. From the old retablos to Japanese war time paintings. We didn’t have it easy as a people–300 years of colonization, decades of war, and now, the constant threat of greedy politicians getting elected to national office. Hah! The National Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays, from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Free admission on Sundays. Rates as follows: 

Individual Fee (PHP)
Student 50.00
Senior Citizen 120.00
Adult 150.00
Groups of 51 or more
Students 40.00
Adult/Senior Citizen 120.00


This blog post is part of my 2015 travel project called #epic7107 — to vist as many places within the home-country as possible and to write not just about destinations, but also, people.  


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