Biography of Fernando Amorsolo
by Edwin A. Martinez
Fernando Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Calle Herran in Paco, Manila to Pedro Amorsolo and Bonifacia Cueto. Although born in the nation’s capital, Amorsolo would spend most of his childhood in the small town setting of Daet in Camarines Norte where his love for the simple rural life would become the foundation for his artistic output for which he is most well-known.
The Early Years
Amorsolo’s earliest memories would bring him back to a quiet life in the countryside. When he was only seven months old, his father moved the family to Daet to work as a bookkeeper for two abaca firms. Pedro was able to earn a modest income, enough to keep his family comfortable.
Fernando showed early signs of his artistic talent. He would go out to the coast to draw pictures of the ships by the wharves. It was his mother who recognized the young Amorsolo’s talent. She would send her son’s drawings to her cousin Fabian dela Rosa, a prominent painter in Manila. At this early age, Amorsolo displayed an affinity for the rural landscape --- a reflection of his own small world.
Tragedy struck early in Amorsolo’s life. One night, when Fernando was still very young, his father was awakened by shouts coming from outside his window. It was the head of the revolutionary movement fighting against the Spaniards demanding that Amorsolo’s half brother, the eldest son Perico, join the group. Against his father’s wishes, Perico relented and went down to join the rebels. The family never saw him again. After the failure of the 1896 uprising, neighbors told the family that they saw Perico, bound with a bamboo pole strapped to his back, being taken to jail. He was later executed by the Spaniards. Shattered with grief by the death of his son, Amorsolo’s father Pedro never recovered from the ordeal and died of a heart attack a few years later.
Amorsolo’s penchant for depicting an idealized world is viewed by his critics as the work of someone who has never experienced pain in his life. It is apparent that the artist’s preference was not due to a lack of exposure to the ills of society but to a conscious effort to hang on to what is pure and good before the harsh realities of the world shattered his peaceful life in the countryside.
His father died when Amorsolo was eleven years old. Before he passed away, Pedro made his wife promise to give Fernando a proper art education. The widowed Bonifacia gathered her family and returned to Manila in hopes of finding better prospects to provide for her family. Her cousin Don Fabian dela Rosa opened his doors to the family. It was here that Amorsolo had his first real exposure to the art world.
To make ends meet, Bonifacia did embroidery to feed her family. Fernando made himself useful by assisting Don Fabian in his studio. It was during this time that Amorsolo received his first art instruction from Don Fabian. The family’s limited financial means made it difficult for the artist to receive consistent formal art instruction. He earned money the only way he knew how. Amorsolo drew sketches and sold them for 15 centavos a piece to help his family and to pay for his schooling. Despite the family’s financial difficulties, in 1914, he finally earned his degree, with honors, as a member of the first graduating class of the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts.
Amorsolo lived during a turbulent time in the Philippines. He came of age during a transition period in Philippine history. The former Spanish colony became a territory of the United States of America. As American influence slowly crept into Filipino culture in the bigger cities, the artist yearned for the life he knew during his early childhood days in Daet. This clearly manifested itself in his artistic output where he clearly showed a partiality towards the rural setting where American culture was slow to trickle down. His paintings would embody an affinity for the traditions and lifestyle he knew during the Spanish era. His canvases were filled with scenes of fiestas, old churches and rituals that were the legacy of the Philippines’ former colonial masters.
The Early Years |
Striking out on his Own |
The War Years | The Prime of his Years | At the Sunset of his Life