When was the last time you set foot inside the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines? Probably way back when you were required to go there on a field trip or when you were bored in Manila and just needed something to do to pass the time. It’s a common assumption that museums, particularly art museums, are places where snooty artsy types congregate to discuss the tiny nuances of each painting and sculpture. Don’t buy into that because our own National Museum showcases works of art that even the squarest, most uncreative visitor can still marvel at.
Need proof? Just check out these 6 works of art that will dazzle your mind at take your breath away. And we’re not just talking about popular works like the ubiquitous Spoliarium that you’ve seen all over the media time and again. No, we’re here to talk about the other works that no form of other media can do justice. You simply have to see them with your own eyes.
Parisian Life by Juan Luna
To all of you who have seen Heneral Luna, yes this painting was depicted in the flashback scene of the general’s life. An avid observer and painter of beautiful women, Luna chose to represent in this piece a Parisian courtesan about to rise from a couch. It’s a far cry from his more tumultuous paintings with darker colors, as this is one of the pieces that showcased his talent for painting scenes with a lighter mood.
Fun fact: Those three men in the background are Juan Luna himself, Jose Rizal and Dr. Ariston Bautista Lin, a fellow compatriot in the propaganda movement.
The Commonwealth Triumphal Arch by Guillermo Tolentino
Initially intended to be placed at the intersection of Plaza Burgos and Taft Avenue, the scale model for the Commonwealth Triumphal Arc depict the bas-relief statues of everyday Filipinos who have been working towards Filipino independence. In this work of art, you’ll see mothers, laborers, farmers, and even children all depicting the bayanihan effort to uphold their freedom.
Fun fact: The arch was never actually built because by the time Tolentino was able to present his scale model to President Quezon, World War II started, and funds for the project were allocated towards the war effort.
Maria Clara by Vicente S. Manansala
Vicente Manansala is most popularly known for his style of transparent cubism, with popular works like Madonna of the Slums and Jeepneys. But despite this style, he also created an ink on paper masterpiece depicting one of the most iconic women in Filipino culture – Maria Clara. In this seemingly unassuming portrait, you can see the dignified dalagang Pilipina sitting for her portrait with her hands demurely folded in her lap.
Fun fact: Lurking in the background is the friar that we’ll love to hate – Padre Damaso.
Sculpture of Spoliarium by Juan Luna by Graciano Nepomuceno
You all know what the famed Spoliarium looks like, but just imagine the level of detail and hard work Graciano had to put into creating a miniature sculpture of Luna’s most documented painting. Shown above is just a photograph of Nepomuceno’s tribute to Luna’s obra, but it’s undeniably a work of art in itself. As you can see the foreground prominently juts out of the frame, giving the relief sculpture a lifelike and more poignant appearance.
Fun Fact: Graciano Nepomuceno originally studied painting under Miguel Zaragoza, a contemporary of Juan Luna. But because they disagreed on way too many points, Nepomuceno ventured on to become a sculptor. Definitely a great career move.
Mission Accomplished by Hernando R. Ocampo
There’s an entire wing of the National Museum dedicated to H.R. Ocampo’s work, some of which may not be appealing to those who aren’t into the abstract movement. But one piece truly stands out from the rest as a perfect blend of H.R. Ocampo’s signature lively abstract style and his skill at depicting scenery. Mission Accomplished has gone down in history as one of the artworks that called upon the nationalist spirit of the Filipinos after the Second World War.
Fun fact: There’s a note at the bottom left-hand corner that reads: “To Marvyn Samson, who is not afraid to live his own life. Nanding.”
The Assassination of Governor Bustamante by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo
Last but not the least in this list is the artwork that you only must behold with your own eyes to believe. Violent as the subject matter may be; it can’t be denied that this massive masterpiece by Hidalgo is one of the most beautiful and surreal works in the entire museum. Often overshadowed by the more popular Spoliarium on the opposite side of the hall, The Assassination of Governor Bustamante is a sharp contrast to the dark yet equally violent scene of Spoliarium. The composition of the entire piece is truly a marvel as it tells a whole story with just one scene.
Fun fact: Why you ask, are these friars so intent on murdering Governor Bustamante? It’s because he arrested an Archbishop suspected of corruption and smuggling during the Galleon Trade.
Six works of art are but the tip of the iceberg of sights to behold within the National Art Gallery of the National Museum of the Philippines. One of these days, you may want to check these artworks out for yourself!
National Museum of the Philippines
P. Burgos Drive, Rizal Park, Manila
Tuesdays-Sundays, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Admission cost: P150 for adults | P120 for senior citizens | P50 for students
Main Photo by Angela Bernadette Reyes