At the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, the faces of the country’s elite peer imperiously from within gilded frames, their stately expressions of serenity and luxury captured in soft strokes, bold colors, and extreme detail, all shown in a masterful play of light and shadow.
These portraits—the subjects of which include the likes of Tingting Cojuangco, Jaime and Beatriz Zobel de Ayala, and of course, then-President Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos—are the works of the late Chilean painter Claudio Bravo, who was in Manila for a six-month visit in 1968.
It is this particular period in Bravo’s career that is recreated in the exhibit “Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila” which opened at the Metropolitan Museum on Chile’s Independence Day last Sept. 18, and will run until Oct. 20.
According to exhibit curator Tats Rejante Manahan, these particular paintings are the hyperrealist artist’s studies of light and color.
“He said the portraits that he did here in the Philippines were the most lucid. It was here where he first learned to use color because of the race. He was very inspired by the race, the light, the tropics; he got very inspired by all of that,” Manahan told GMA News Online.
Manahan referred to a quote by Bravo from an interview on a Chilean television show in 1995.
“I think the Philippine portraits are, perhaps, my most lucid paintings, because it was a different race, beautiful! Different colors, and I could paint with colors like Matisse,” Bravo remarked, after interviewer Hugo Arevalo brought up the painter’s need for a change in environment from Madrid, where he had been living prior to coming to Manila.
“Philippines was the tropics, a different vision of the world and of light. There I began to dare use more ‘electric’ colors and to enjoy color…” Bravo said.
Interestingly enough, some of Bravo’s Manila works still tended toward pastels and nudes. His portrait of Imelda Marcos, for instance, was a pearl and ivory masterpiece; that of Iñigo and Rocio Zobel Urquijo stunning in soft silvers and dove grays; and his portrait of Gretchen Oppen Cojuangco, a dream of soft blues and lilacs.
But in many of the works Bravo also used color unapologetically: Imelda Cojuangco, resplendent in amethyst robes against a bright purple background; Baby Fores, a subversive Venus Pudica in a shining amber sheet; Chona Kasten in an orchid dress against a tangerine sunset; Alice Recto verdant in different shades of green.
Manahan explained that Bravo’s Manila visit had a great impact on his later works, noting that his paintings “Green Package” from 2005 and “Pottery” from 2008 show a boldness of color that can also be seen in a lot of his Manila works.
“This is like his study in color. He was practicing on everything here for the paintings that eventually made him very famous… That’s what makes his stay here important, I guess, for him as an artist, to have been able to literally see the light,” she explained.
“Collectively this has the impact on his own career and on us as Filipinos. He himself said he learned to use color,” Manahan added.
The curator was quick to point out that the significance of Bravo’s visit was two-way.
“For us to have been the subject of a painter who later on became very famous, I think it’s fantastic, it’s an honor, it should make us proud to be Filipinos that we inspired somebody as good as this guy. And on his part also he honors us by his singling us out, you know, to have been his inspiration,” she explained.
Tessie Ojeda Luz, wife of National Artist Arturo Luz, was one of the women who sat for Bravo during his stay here. In the portrait, Bravo immortalized Luz’s youth, drawing every fine detail down to the last strand of hair.
Luz shared that the portrait was done for three hours, and that Bravo was very meticulous but also very easygoing.
“He never uses photographs. He always paints from life. I mean he just, he was a wonderful person to be with. One could relax because he was a very easy person to get along with and he had a great sense of humor,” she told GMA News Online.
When presented with the finished work, Luz, an artist herself, was nothing short of thrilled: “It was fantastic, you see? Every hair…that’s me.” –KG, GMA News
"Claudio Bravo: Sojourn in Manila" will run at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila until October 20. A curator’s talk featuring Tats Rejante Manahan will also be held on Oct. 6 at 10 a.m. For more details log on to www.metmuseum.ph or call (02) 708-7829.
Photos courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila