PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF GEORGE C.C. HO
Sotheby’s is honoured to present Women with Baskets and Fruits, an exquisite masterpiece painted in 1958 that also features a familial connection with the artist. It originates directly from the collection of Mr. George C. C. Ho, the older brother of Anita’s husband Robert C. F. Ho and an avid art collector himself. Born in Shanghai, he began amassing a fine collection of Chinese paintings, calligraphy, jewellery, and other objects of art following his move to Hong Kong in 1949. This fall marks the very first time this delightful work has appeared on the market.
In this painting, a group of women sort through the abundant harvest and line their baskets with a myriad of colourful fruits, their graceful limbs interweaving in the common task they share. Besides the cheerful camaraderie shared by the women, the sweet joy of the moment is embodied in the young girl enjoying a bite of the fruit she holds in her hands. This stunning work is an important example of Anita’s modernist style in the 1950s, which is characterised by tight compositions, an emphasis on movement through bold, vigorous brushstrokes, strong tonal contrasts, and a tendency to simplify forms into geometric shapes.
In many ways, Women with Baskets and Fruits is a dynamic work that captures the kinetics of the figure’s activities, and also highlights the successes of her burgeoning experiments with modernist ideas of form and figuration. Prior to this shift, her output in the 1940s bore the influence of Filipino master painter Fernando Amorsolo, emphasising the classical ideals of harmony and proportion. Thus, paintings from Anita’s 40s period are reminiscent of Amorsolo’s own sun-drenched, genteel genre paintings of Filipino pastoral life. Following the end of World War II and the subsequent scarcity of opportunities to further her art education in Manila, Anita set out for the United States to pursue her studies--a move that would prove transformative to her artistic style.
In 1949, Anita enrolled in the Art Students’ League (ASL) in New York City, the leading art school in America at the time that boasted illustrious alumni like the rising abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. Under the tutelage of Kenneth Hayes Miller, who also mentored prominent American realist painter Edward Hopper, she learnt to ‘see the whole picture in an oil painting, sharpening her compositional sense… to relate the subject to the background.’ (Roces, Alfredo R., Anita Magsaysay-Ho: In Praise of Women, Philippines: Crucible Workshop, Pasig City, 2005. p.32)
Throughout the 1950s, Anita’s art gained a daring avant-garde edge over the established classical ideals of Filipino genre painting. Although she continued to focus largely on painting pastoral subjects, her openness to new techniques like expressive distortion added a new vigour in her work.
In Women with Baskets and Fruits, the choreographic grace of the women is emphasised by Anita’s masterful use of light and colour. She "conjures light to play on the faces of the women, on the folds of the tapis and skirts… but her paintings claim no natural common light source as you claim to see in Nature." (Ibid., p. 41) Anita utilises chiaroscuro to carefully articulate the angular, delineated forms of each woman, allowing the viewer to become acutely aware of every figure’s gestures and subtle movements; the contrapuntal effect of intersecting lines and gradations of colour creates a rhythm within the painting.
Women with Baskets and Fruits’ balanced use of colours speaks to its pleasing sense of visual harmony. Its earthy palette of reds and browns suggests the women labouring under the tropical heat of the Filipino countryside, an effect bolstered by the warm, rosy tones of their tawny complexions. At the same time, Anita punctuates the painting with the white, pink, and blue of the women’s outfits. The resulting interplay of warm and cool tones produces a mellifluous effect that is visually delightful.
In addition, the tight composition of the painting--also characteristic of Anita’s 1950s style-- is at once intimate and dynamic. The women almost fill up the entire canvas, leaving little space between them as their bodies overlap and curve towards the centre. Brimming with a heightened yet contained energy, Women with Baskets and Fruits displays a spirited flurry of movement tempered by the artist’s ability to render the calm graces of her subjects. The bold, decisive lines that define each figure are perhaps a legacy of Anita’s training at the ASL, where the students were tasked with sketching dynamic, complicated poses in short bursts of time. Such exercises trained Anita to capture movement with the economy of line that would become part of her highly recognisable aesthetic, which the present work displays with much charm.
The painting is also notable for its repetitive geometric forms, employed as visual motifs which interact together to create lively counterpoints of shapes. This was a technique Anita refined in later works like Paghuhuli Ng Mga Manok (Catching Chickens) in 1962. Here, it has the effect of enhancing the strong visual rhythm of the work by abstracting the forms of the women and their baskets into a series of shapes-- triangular kerchiefs, rectangular skirts, and spherical containers. The women themselves are stylised with angular bodies, high cheekbones, and delicate lines for eyes; this distinctive physical archetype that defines them also unites them in a common sisterhood. Thus, although Women with Baskets and Fruits is a relatively early example of Anita’s modernist works, the assured manner in which she renders her subject matter highlights the strength of her artistic vision.
In what has since become her hallmark, Anita maintained an emphatically feminine narrative throughout her oeuvre. Exemplified in this beautiful work, her women inhabit bucolic landscapes, always in various states of rest, work, or play. Within their intimate worlds of pastoral labour, the women are serene sylphs who exude a joyous glow as they gather fruits, work the earth, or tend to the animals, unfettered by worldly concerns besides those of the immediate moment they exist in.
Women with Baskets and Fruits is truly a signature work by the Philippines' beloved female modern artist, showcasing her painterly style at the very heights of her expressivity and creativity. This heartening depiction pays homage to the happenings of Arcadian life and elevates it into a joyous celebration of the light-hearted vitality of the Filipino women. As a work of exceptional provenance, the inclusion of Women with Baskets and Fruits in Mr. George Ho’s personal collection underscores his and his family’s high regard for Anita as well as their long-time admiration for her art.
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