THE COUNTRY mourns the loss of the last of Victorio Edades’ “Thirteen Moderns.”

The only woman in the list, Anita Magsaysay-Ho was not only a forerunner of Philippine modern art, but also a highly original artist who was able to define in lines and colors the Filipina’s distinct mystique.

Rural scenes and female characters depicted as busy with household work while clad in traditional Filipiniana costumes were staple subjects of Magsaysay-Ho.

Dubbed the “female Amorsolo,” she was one of the few who had the privilege of being under the tutelage of Victorio Edades, the founder of the UST College of Architecture and Fine Arts, outside of UST’s walls.

Although she was a product of the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts, Magsaysay-Ho further honed her talent under Edades, who also taught at the defunct UP School of Design.

In the 1930s, she went to the United States to continue her studies at the Art Student’s League in New York, where she was taught by prominent artists such as Kenneth Hayes Miller, Will Barnet, and Robert Ward Johnson.

But according to Sikat Books’ 13 Painters for the 21st Century, written by art historian Ana Labrador, it was during her training at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan “where Magsaysay-Ho seemed to have found her true medium.”

She then became known for mastering the use of a difficult medium—egg tempera, which she had learned from her mentor, Zoltan Sepeshy. The medium involved a delicate procedure that had been abandoned by most artists in her generation. It involved the mixing of egg yolks, ground pigments, and water emulsion. When used, the medium produces paintings that are noticeably brighter. It was also in the U.S. where she met her husband, shipping tycoon Robert Ho.

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Her training under Edades did not end during her stay at the former UP School of Design. In the 1940s, she collaborated with her mentor in painting a fresco mural in the Quezon Institute with Consuelo Lee. This was where Magsaysay-Ho learned to embrace modernist painting under Edades. Unfortunately, the mural, located at the hospital’s lobby, was destroyed during the Second World War.

Before the war broke out, Edades came out with a short list he referred to as the “Thirteen Moderns,” a roster of modern arts pioneers. These artists challenged the classic style introduced by Fernando Amorsolo in the 1930s.

The list was led by the “Triumvirate of Modern Art” composed of Edades, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, and Galo Ocampo. Other artists in the list were Cesar Legaspi, Hernando Ocampo and Vicente Manansala (who all became National Artists); Thomasians Ricarte Puruganan, Jose Pardo and Bonifacio Cristobal; and Diosdado Lorenzo, Demetrio Diego, and Arsenio Capili.

Most of the Thirteen Moderns taught at the UST School of Fine Arts, making UST the cradle of modern art in the Philippines.

Tributes to Anita

In 1958, the Manila Chronicle published a list of the six greatest artists in Philippine history. Magsaysay-Ho was included in the list alongside Manansala, Ocampo, Francisco, Arturo Luz, and Fernando Zobel.

In 1988, the Metropolitan Museum of Manila came out with a book that celebrated the artist’s long-running career titled, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, A Retrospective.

In 1999, her painting, “In the Marketplace,” set a record after being sold for P15 million in the Christie’s auction Singapore.

The small tempera piece measured 28×30 inches and depicted a classic scene in the rural marketplace—women haggling their way to smarter purchases. The bidding was won by the Lopez Museum in Pasig City where it now hangs, but is currently archived.

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Magsaysay-Ho was also a recurrent winner of various competitions in the country mostly hosted by the Art Association of the Philippines.

“She is a prolific artist and that is why she deserves to be a national artist,” said Jaime de los Santos, former dean of the College of Fine Arts and Design. With reports from ALFREDO N. MENDOZA V

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