Lot 1058
  • 1058

ANITA MAGSAYSAY - HO | Washing of the Feet

4,500,000 - 6,500,000 HKD
bidding is closed


  • Anita Magsaysay - Ho
  • Washing of the Feet
  • Signed and dated 1959
  • Oil on canvas
  • 59 by 148 cm; 23 1/4  by 58 1/4  in.


Formerly in the collection of Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez
Private Collection, Australia


Alfredo Roces, Anita Magsaysay-Ho: In Praise of Women, The Crucible Workshop, Pasig City, Philippines, 2005, p. 285, color illustration


This work is in good overall condition as viewed. There is evidence of some light wear and losses at the edges of work, and the canvas has been relined. There are faint, hairline craquelures on the surface of the painting, but these are stable and consistent with the age of the work. Upon close inspection and under bright light, there are isolated specks of pigment loss at a few areas of thicker impasto, visible on a hand of the second figure from the left, the foot at the water basin, near the lower edges and lower right quadrant of the work. Examination under ultraviolet light reveals minor restoration scattered sporadically, most notably at the left quadrant, at the hand and sleeve of the central figure and edges of the work. Framed.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Washing of the Feet by Anita Magsaysay-Ho is a singularly powerful work by the female modernist. Sotheby’s is deeply honored to present this superlative of Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s celebrated oeuvrethe only composition of this subject painted by the artist. Striking for its unusual composition and spiritual significance, the painting hails from exceptional provenance as it was composed as a gift to Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez. In this heartfelt depiction of an iconic biblical scene, Anita expresses admiration for humble, hardworking Filipinos and at the same time captures the lofty ideal that leaders are first servants of the people and not of their own ambitions. Anita interprets what many artists have depicted for centuries, but in a radically focused way. She levels the viewer’s gaze on the very act of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples, and thus moves viewers to ponder the magnitude of its meaning in society. Few female artists working in the mid-20th century Southeast Asia gained the respect and celebrated popularity attained by Anita Magsaysay-Ho during her lifetime. A luminary within Filipino art widely celebrated for her empathetic portrayals of Filipino womanhood and pastoral life, Anita possessed a generous heart for her countrymen. As the only woman among the Thirteen Moderns, a revolutionary group of artists who brought modernist art into the mainstream in the 1950s, Anita and her achievements loom large even among her contemporaries. Exhibiting a distinct flair for compositions brimming with activity, Anita’s artistic pursuits extended beyond the pleasant and placid as she sought to inspire upon her audience deep convictions.

Executed in 1959, the present lot was previously held in the personal collection of the late Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez and has been kept in private hands in a private collection in Australia. Trained in law, Emmanuel Pelaez, served as Vice President of the Philippines from 1961 to 1964 and concurrent Foreign Affairs Secretary from 1962 to 1963 when he met with US President John F. Kennedy to discuss the claims of Philippine war veterans.

The respected statesman was later appointed Ambassador to the United States of America from 1986 to 1992 and was sent to Washington to negotiate bilateral treaties to support the administration of Pres. Corazon Aquino and the rebuilding of Philippine democracy after decades of martial law. A popular figure, he was known for his longstanding interest in rural economic development and for being a devout Catholic.

Depicting one of the most iconic scenes in the New Testament, Washing of the Feet represents Pelaez’s wish for public officials to embrace the culture of servant leadership or the philosophy that effective leaders strive to uphold the interests of those they serve, rather than their own. At the time, Magsaysay-Ho visited the office of Mr. Pelaez and noticed a print depicting this Biblical event. He explained to her that his concept of public service was guided by the verses in John 13: 14-17: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him."

Anita said of the piece: “I painted this for Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez. He told me that public officials must remember this scene from the Bible with its lesson in humanity. He said that public officials must serve the people. I am told that after I gave this to him, he hung it in whatever office he occupied.”[1] The two figures were close friends. Emmanuel Pelaez had worked with Anita’s cousin, the late President Ramon del Fierro Magsaysay who served as Pelaez’s political mentor. While Anita was already known for her joyous paintings of the light-hearted vitality of the Filipino women, she wholeheartedly devoted herself to capturing the scene of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet in her own way. “For this painting, I studied the feet of the drivers, janitors and other working men. I wanted the feet of the apostles to be realistic and I wanted to paint the feet of people firmly planted on the ground.”[2]

Washing of the Feet powerfully resonated with the artist, who departed from her prolific series of women in their worlds of pastoral labor, to produce this highly significant work. Anita was first trained by prominent Filipino masters like Fabian de la Rosa and Fernando Amorsolo at the School of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines (UP). Following the end of WWII, she set out for the United States and enrolled in the prominent Art Students’ League (ASL) in New York, a move that transformed her artistic style. Under the esteemed tutelage of Kenneth Hayes Miller, Anita’s newfound affinity for modernist art was cultivated through her comprehensive studies in oil painting, graphics and egg tempera. After returning to the Manila, Anita persisted with her inimitable style, and continued to push and experiment with the boundaries of modernist compositions and techniques. While initially controversial, Anita’s fresh visual palette subsequently gained a unique avant-garde edge over the pre-established ideals of Filipino classical painting, which played an enormous role in the eventual acceptance of modern art in the Philippines.

The most salient qualities of female modernist Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s treasured paintings are the quiet dignity, communal spirit and inviting nature of the figures in each work. Washing of the Feet is emblematic of this very sense of camaraderie, elevating a simple gesture with noble gentility. Hiding the faces of the apostles who were surprised by Jesus’ gesture, Anita paints the men seated closely in nervous anticipation - their hands clasped upon their knees and their feet planted tightly together. The artist masterfully employs body language to subtly suggest the men’s disbelief at seeing their esteemed leader take on the task assigned only to the lowliest of servants, bathing the feet of guests. Anita further highlights the focal moment, conjuring light to play on the blue sleeve and soft hands of the middle figure as one of the disciples precariously dips his feet into the washing bowl.

At the heart of Anita’s works are evocations of compositional movement, and this present lot is an exact case in point. Anita converses in a visual language in a conscious and deliberate manner, as she arranges various visual motifs which interact together in order to harness the linearity and spatiality of the canvas. By situating the holy gesture at the center of the enclave consisting of Jesus’ disciples, Anita places emphasis on the interaction and illuminates its symbolism in all its entirety. Anita was recognized for her pronounced sensitivity to the gestures of the body and her way of containing her subjects within tight pictorial fields. Crowded, complex and energetic, Anita composes a bustling scene through bold brushstrokes and strong tonal contrasts of light and dark. With a repetition of geometric forms, Anita fills the canvas with the disciples’ hands and feet and represents them through a measured interplay of horizontal and vertical lines.

By gathering these figures into a rectangular format, the canvas becomes entirely occupied with their varied postures and movements, which prompts a greater sensitivity towards each of their detailed kinetics. Not a single area of space is wasted under Anita’s choreographic grace, as even the intervals between figures and negative spaces in the background are well integrated into the composition, denoting a sense of angularity in tandem with modernist ideals of form and figuration. Each portion of the work carries a distinct rhythmic undulation and character, and comes together in order to surpass the flatness of the canvas. Brisk, decisive lines that frame neatly the silhouettes of the figures mark Anita’s tendency to simplify forms into basic geometric shapes, as she reduces the details of their fingers and fabrics to bold, angular forms. With varying shades of teal, mauve and lilac, Anita imbues the lively counterpoints of shapes with depth and dimensionality, which results in a mellifluous medley of natural shadows and highlights.

Washing of the Feet marks a special relationship between its original owner and the celebrated Anita Magsayay-Ho and reveals an aligned belief in the importance of selflessness in every aspect of life. Radically distinguishing herself from classical traditions, the only female artist of the Thirteen Moderns, re-interprets this iconic scene in her own way, paying homage to its symbolism while bearing relevance to her Filipino experience. Stylistically, it is characteristic of an artist whose responses to the notions of harmony and proportion are executed in dexterous connections between shapes and rhythm. Sotheby’s is honored for this rare opportunity to exhibit this singular masterpiece intended to change the paradigms of its viewers, as Anita imbues the piece with her distinguished aesthetic flourish. 

[1] Alfredo Roces, Anita Magsaysay-Ho: In Praise of Women, The Crucible Workshop, 2005, p. 285

[2] Ibid