Lot #030

Vicente Manansala

The Candle-Sellers
signed and dated 1962 (upper left)
oil on canvas
27” x 37” (69 cm x 94 cm)
Starting Bid : Php 6,000,000
HP + BP : Php 18,688,000
Provenance William “Bill” Gargiulo; The Gargiulos acquired the Manansala “The Candle-Sellers” in the course of Billy’s assignment in the Philippines, sometime in July of 1962
Garcia succeeded the immensely popular Ramon Magsaysay after he perished in a plane crash and became famous in his own right as the founder of the ‘Filipino First’ movement that favored Philippine businessmen over foreign interests.
The Gargiulos acquired the Manansala “The Candle-Sellers” in the course of Billy’s assignment in the Philippines, sometime in July of 1962, along with the Zobel “Acinipo #390” also featured in this auction.
It was no accident that Vicente Silva Manansala set up his atelier in Binangonan, the town next to the Angono made famous by Carlos ‘Botong’ Villaluz Francisco. Manansala, after all, was renowned as an unabashed disciple of the legendary Botong. As early as 1930, Manansala — who perhaps styled himself “Enteng” with the same smalltown-boy charm as the nickname ‘Botong’ suggested — had found himself felicitously in the orbit of the master muralist. The two apparently had a joint exhibit at the Philippine Vistas in Intramuros. (Philippine Vistas was the first commercial art gallery founded under the American regime; while the first-ever art gallery in the country was the ‘Arte’ founded by Alfonso Ongpin at the turn of the century.)
For both Botong and Manansala, it was to be the first exhibition of their works; for Manansala, then only 20 years old, it was a greater, career-defining moment to find himself in such august company. He had just graduated from the University of the Philippines’ School of Fine Arts the previous year, as the youngest member of his class.
Unlike Botong, however, Manansala was a city boy through and through. Although he reveled later in life in the countryside landscapes that he would do for private enjoyment, he first achieved fame and fortune with characters plucked from Manila’s chaos. He would immortalize women queuing for rice rations (in “Pila sa Bigas”), hawkers of vegetables and fish, vendors from the teeming markets as well as their families gathered around a very meager repast of dried fish and rice.
His “Madonna of the Slums” (1950) is considered a key Filipino modernist work, which situated the iconic Mother and Child amid a ramshackle vista of ‘informal settlers’. It was nothing short of revolutionary.
His prize-winning work “Barong-Barong #1 (The Shanties #1)” would reap the First Prize at the Art Association of the Philippines’ semi-annual exhibition, in 1951 held at the Manila Grand Opera House. Manansala would best titans Anita Magsaysay-Ho and Hernando R. Ocampo, who would come in at second and third place, respectively. (Another artwork titled “Barong-Barong #2 (The Shanties #2)” would also snag an Honorable Mention in the same competition.) These wins would establish Manansala as an artist to reckon with. It must have been hugely satisfying for Manansala that he would repeat Botong Francisco’s feat of taking home the Art Association’s First Prize three years earlier in 1948. (Botong had won with “Kaingin (The Farmers that Slash and Burn)”, which told the tale of a destitute countryside, at the AAP’s very first competition.)
These themes of urban decay would likewise set the tone of his successful career. Like the characters in his paintings, Enteng grew up in ‘a single, crowded room in Intramuros’, living there until it was razed to the ground with the rest of the old city at the end of World War II. He was a scrappy boy, who began working as a bootblack when he was just 11; next, as an overzealous newspaper boy at age 16. (He hawked his wares so loudly that he lost his voice, forcing him to return to shining shoes.) Manansala would remember that he himself would ironically not own a decent pair of shoes until he was 17.
If Botong would paint of the people and places he knew in the bucolic fields and lakeshores of Angono, Enteng would paint his own poetry of the urban jungle.
In the artwork at hand, “The Candle-Sellers”, Manansala etches the figures of two women on the sidewalk outside the famous Quiapo Church, found in the busiest district of the metropolis and well-known for such folk expressions of the Catholic faith. The women offer not just the usual tapers to be lit inside the church to speed one’s prayers heavenward, but also candles shaped as human figures: representing both good and perhaps, more mischievous intentions. (Traditionally, red candles were lit to ensure good fortune in business, white candles were supposedly for peace of mind. Red candles in the form of human figures, on the other hand, were intended to wake the conscience of those for whom the prayers were made.) The sellers in the painting are veiled, as was the tradition in those pre-Vatican II days, their faces frozen in inscrutable masks. The women are barefoot as Manansala also liked to remember that he was.
The focus in this painting, however, is not so much these female vendors but the inanimate shapes and forms of the candles, that even unlit, seem to be sparked with an energetic life force. As the curator Ramon Villegas once opined, Manansala was never a pessimistic soul and his works always burned brightly with hope, no matter how bleak his surroundings were — offering an insight into what makes this modernist master so universally appealing.
Vicente S. Manansala, like his mentor Carlos ‘Botong’ V. Francisco, would also be named Philippine National Artist for the Visual Arts in 1982.
-Lisa Guerrero Nakpil