14 Must-See Filipino Paintings of National Pride

Botong Francisco, Juan Luna, and Fernando Amorosolo

14 Filipino Classic and Neo-Classical paintings, a must on your bucket list

For years, aesthetes have always been engrossed in the appreciation of various types of art, depending on their preferences.

Different art forms, such as architecture, sculpture, literature, music, performing, cinema, and painting, have always magnetized these types of individuals and made them flock to specific venues where they can view art to their heart’s desire.

As far as paintings from the archipelago’s most famous artists are concerned, there is no other place to marvel at these masterpieces than in the National Museum.

The National Museum of the Philippines

Located in the City of Manila, the National Museum was the old congress building during the Commonwealth period. It has a vast collection of art and artifacts. Of course, other must-see paintings are in the provincial museums that you have to see.

Let us take a closer look at some of the works of renowned Filipino painters that adorn this museum’s hallowed halls, founded in 1901.

Juan Luna

Ilocos Norte, October 24, 1857- December 7, 1899

Luna’s undated work in oil once called Paz Pardo de Tavera. Known today as Portrait of a Lady.

Aside from painting, Juan Luna de San Pedro y Novicio Ancheta was a sculptor and a political activist in the late 1800s. Although Luna is our great pride, his life is shrouded with passion and jealousy. He murdered his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, and his own mother in Paris.

Luna’s wife is said to be the inspiration for the “Portrait of a Lady.” The painting is believed to carry a curse and caused sickness, bad luck, and death to whoever owns it.

In 1884, Juan Luna won the First Class medal at the 1884 “Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes” 1884 for his “Spoliarium.” This grand masterpiece is believed to be the most iconic Filipino painting the country possesses.

The title Spolarium refers to the basement of the famous Colosseum in Rome, where the dead bodies of gladiators were taken and disposed of. (The colossal painting is approximately 14 × 25 ft)

Luna’s lost works

In 1889, Juan Luna won a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris for the painting “Hymen, Oh Hymenee.” Luna kept the painting in his private collection, but he died the same year.

Its whereabouts were unknown until 2014 when Jaime Ponce de Leon, the founder of León Gallery, acquired it from the heirs in Europe.

Another famous painting is Luna’s 1895 “Una Bulaqueña” (The Woman from Bulacan). It portrays a woman from the province wearing a traditional Filipino dress referred to today as the “Maria Clara gown.”

Esteban Pichay Villanueva

Ilocos Sur, September 1, 1797-1878

“The Revolt of Basi” is a series of 14 painting panels that depict the 1807 Basi Revolt in Ilocos Norte.

A simple farmer with no formal education in painting, Esteban Villanueva was asked to produce a pictographic series of “The Revolt of Basi” in 1821. The series of paintings depicted the 1807 Basi Revolt.

In 1786, the Spanish government banned privately owned wine businesses. The locals were forced to buy from government stores. Naturally, wine-loving Ilocanos refused.

The revolt began in Piddig on September 16, 1807. Spanish troops eventually quelled the revolt on September 28, 1807.

Félix Resurrección Hidalgo

Manila, February 21, 1855-March 13, 1913

The murder of Governor General Fernando Manuel de Bustillo Bustamente y Rueda in 1719, by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, 1904

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo is known for impressionism, landscape, and religious subject paintings.

Hidalgo was awarded a silver medal in 1884 during the “Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes” in Madrid, which incidentally was the same venue where Luna won a gold medal.

He also garnered gold and silver medals abroad for some of his works.

Hidalgo’s “The Murder of Governor Bustillo,” depicting the assassination of the anticlerical Governor by supporters of the Archbishop, won the gold medal in 1905 at the St. Louis Exposition in America.

Fernando Amorsolo

Manila, May 30, 1892-Aprl 24, 1972

The painting “Mga prutas sa ilalim ng punong manga,” painted in 1937, demonstrates Amorsolo’s unique technique that made him famous, an illuminated landscape.

Fernando Amorsolo is the first National Artist of the Philippines. He was known for his landscape and mastery of light usage.

He won several awards and had significant exhibitions here and abroad, such as winning first prize at the New York World Fair in 1929.

Amorsolo was dubbed the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art” in 1969. His “The Burning of Manila” in 1946 depicts the devastation of Manila during World War II against the Japanese.

Amorsolo painted “The Fruit Pickers Under the Mango Tree” when feminism was gaining ground and recognition.

Palay Maiden, 1920.  For Amorsolo, Filipino beauty was an important symbol of national identity. The colors of the Philippine flag are evident in the blue kerchief, red skirt, and white blouse. 

The “Oracion” of 1959 shows Catholics praying for the Angelus and facing the church’s direction. The “Palay Maiden” perhaps is an Amorsolo favorite, as it captures the beauty of Filipiniana art.

Vicente Silva Manansala

Pampanga, January 22, 1910-August 22, 1981

Vicente Manansala’s “Pila sa Bigas” painted in 1980, was sold for P30.37 million at Christie’s.

Vicente Manansala became a National Artist for pioneering cubism in the Philippines. He received several awards in national competitions.

Manansala was also a recipient of a Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1963) and a Stalwart for Arts and Culture Award (1970).

Women are a favorite subject of Vicente. He portrays them with a spirit of strength and excellence. He hailed during the Marcos era, as such, was surrounded by social unrest.

One of his famous paintings is “Planting of the First Cross,” painted in 1965. It depicts the cross’s planting in Cebu in 1521 with Ferdinand Magellan, Spanish soldiers, and the helpless natives.

How Galleon Trade brought first Filipinos to America.

Vicente Manasala’s Planting of the first cross, 1965

In 2015, Vicente Manansala’s oil-on-canvas “Pila sa Bigas” sold for P30.37 million at Christie’s auction. It is the highest paid for a Manansala in a Philippine auction.

It is also the second highest-amount to be achieved for the National Artist in the world.

Cesar Legaspi

Manila, April 2, 1917-April 7, 1994

Cesar Legaspi’s “Brainstorm” painted in 1991, few years before his death. Sold for only Three Million Pesos at Christie’s auction in 2014.

As one of the pioneers of neo-realism, National Artist Cesar Legaspi won awards in several national competitions. He also received the Stalwart for Arts and Culture Award (1972) and a Critics’ Choice Award for Five Outstanding Living Artists (1981), to name a few.

He studied in the Academie Ranson, Paris, for a month under Henri Goetz. When he returned, he had his first one-person show at the Luz Gallery in 1963.

He also worked as a magazine illustrator and artistic director at an advertising agency.

The works of Legaspi are fascinating, as he hailed during the dictatorship era of Ferdinand Marcos. Some of his works, if not most, depict the anguish and dehumanization of beggars and laborers in the city.

Although Legaspi disliked former First Lady Imelda Marcos, she was responsible for uplifting what can be considered the renaissance of Philippine art during the 1970s.

Cesar is a born-again Christian, and his work, The Resurrection, is displayed at the CCF Center in Ortigas. Many people do not know, but he is color blind. Legaspi is the father of singer Celeste.

Hernando R. Ocampo

Manila, April 28, 1911-December 28, 1978

HR Ocampo oil in canvass painting, 1976

Known as H.R. Ocampo, this National Artists is also a fictionist, a playwright, and an editor. His radical modernist artist was a recipient of a Republic Cultural Award (1965), the Stalwart for Arts and Culture Award (1969), and a Spirit of Race Award (1976).

The 1949 “Mission Accomplished” depicts the end of World War II and raises awareness of post-war impacts. At first glance, his work may not be interesting, but Ocampo is a pioneer in this style.

As a modernist, he used bold colors of sunshine, rays, and stars in bold, colorful strokes.

The grand H.R. Ocampo tapestry “Genesis” was painted in 1968 at the Nicanor Abelardo Hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Ocampo was a member of the “Saturday Group.” They called themselves “Taza de Oro Group” (Golden Cup).

Known as the “triumvirate,” he’s good friends with the last of the great Filipino neo-modernists and neo-realists Vicente S. Manansala and Cesar Legaspi.

Botong Francisco

Rizal, November 4, 1912-March 31, 1969

Approximately 15×15 feet, the Bayanihan mural was commissioned by Jose Campos, founder of UNILAB in 1962.

Known as a muralist, National Artist Carlos Modesto “Botong” Villaluz Francisco‘s big break was when he won Ocampo.

“Filipino Struggles Through History”

The grand mural painting “Filipino Struggles Through History” is a National Treasure. Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas commissioned it in 1964. The seven panels of mural paintings are divided into ten sections.

carlos francisco

History of Manila

Originally titled “Kasaysayan ng Maynila,” it is the most recognized cultural Filipino painting because of its fluidity and color. It reflects the most artistic interpretation of Philippine history, customs, and traditions.

Botong Francisco’s greatest work at the Old Senate Session Hall, now the National Museum. (PHOTO Via Pamana.ph)

The painting was declared a ‘National Cultural Treasure’ on April 8, 1996. On February 19, 2018, the restored conjoined paintings were unveiled at the National Museum.

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