According to León Gallery’s director Jaime Ponce de Leon, Magsaysay-Ho’s work is now the most expensive Philippine painting per square inch.
The auction battle started with a bid of P12 million. Then, when the dust settled last Saturday during the Asian Cultural Council Auction 2021 at the León Gallery, one bidder took home Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s mythic painting, “Tinapa Vendors,” and paid a whopping P84 million for it.
The painting is regarded as Magsaysay-Ho’s best and her personal favorite. According to Purita Kalaw-Ledesma, the painting is done using the painter’s favorite medium, egg tempera, a fast-drying painting medium consisting of colored pigments combined with a water-soluble binder medium, usually an egg yolk.
The prized piece landed at the León Gallery after the remaining family of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Miller, a foreign service officer and his wife who was assigned in Manila from 1954 to 1956, contacted the gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon. In an article from The Sunday Times Magazine entitled “Mrs. Ho’s Women” dated May 6, 1956, “Tinapa Vendors” was purchased by the diplomat directly from Anita Magsaysay-Ho, with which he had a fond acquaintance with, and stayed under his care until his death in 2017.
In interpreting the piece, writer and art curator Lisa Guerrero-Nakpil wrote:
“Indeed, in this magnificent Anita marketplace, the vendors caress this noble fish as if they were fine silks or jewels. This bounty, after all, is not just a way of life but a means to make a living. The central figure holds up a slim fish to her nose, delicately sniffing it as expertly as a French perfumer to divine its properties. The other women have various reverent expressions as they tend to the flat baskets filled to the brim with the fish, an auspicious symbolism of the plentifulness that can be found even in the simplest of lives”
Anita Magsaysay-Ho is a special kind of art visionary herself. In 1952, she became the first-ever woman to win the grand prize in the prestigious Art Association of the Philippines competition for her legacy-defining work, “The Cooks.” Of the winning work, Guerrero-Nakpil wrote that “both influential newspaper columnists and rich collectors vied for this treasure, even resorting to attacking each other in the press to gain that privilege.” Then the same Sunday Times Magazine article from 1956 would recognize her impact in Modern Art, coining her as “the foremost woman painter in the country today.”
Other pieces that went under the hammer at last weekend’s auction include Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera’s “Dance of Isadora” which was sold for P41 million; Vicente Manansala’s “Pila sa Bigas” which raked in P33 million; Juan Luna’s “Sorprendidos” which went for P335 million; and Don Benito Legarda’s “Views of Manila,” pitching a price of P17.5 million which set another record for the artist.
Lao Lianben’s “Prediction 12” also garnered a world record by pulling P13 million.
A portion of the auction funds went to the Asian Cultural Council, whose mission is to help send more Filipino artists abroad to hone their craft through further studies and residencies.