19th Century Philippine School
signed (lower right)
watercolor on paper
6” x 8 1/4” (15 cm x 21 cm)
Private Collection, Madrid
The Filipino watercolorist depicts a pivotal moment in some unidentified locale during the Philippine Revolution (called the Tagalog War by the Spanish) which was fought between the people of the Philippines and the Spanish colonial authorities.
The grand tableau has all the elements of a painting about the war. While the Philippine Revolution was raging, Spain also had to come to terms with the Spanish-American war on the other side of the globe, when on April 21, 1898, the United States launched a naval blockade of Cuba. On May 1, 1898, the U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron, under Commodore George Dewey decisively defeated the Spanish navy in the Battle of Manila Bay, effectively seizing control of Manila. In certain American paintings depicting the Battle of Manila Bay, the Spanish flags are also hoisted from the Spanish warships, along with the American flag on the American warships. Wartime flags are a frequent occurrence in the pages of ‘Harper’s Weekly’ during that era. In a similar vein, in this watercolor done by a Spanish artist, the Spanish flag is hoisted from the turret of the church.
On May 19, Emilio Aguinaldo, unofficially allied with the United States, returned to the Philippines and resumed attacks against the Spaniards.
The Spanish rule of the Philippines officially ended with the Treaty of Paris of 1898, which also ended the Spanish–American War. In the treaty, Spain ceded control of the Philippines and other territories to the United States. The battle scene is one of the oldest types of art in developed civilizations, as rulers have always been keen to celebrate their victories and intimidate potential opponents. Here, the Filipino artist depicts the valiant standoff of his countrymen, storming the forefront of the fortress-like church, a windswept Spanish flag and all.
The defeat and collapse of the Spanish Empire was a profound shock to Spain's national psyche, and provoked a thorough philosophical and artistic revaluation of Spanish society known as the Generation of ’98. A decade and a half later — with the advent of the twentieth century — World War I very largely confirmed the end of the glorification of war in art, which had been in decline since the end of the previous century.