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‘Windows to a glorious past’

By JOANNE RAE M. RAMIREZ, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 03, 2021 5:00 am

When I was going over narratives on the late Don Anselmo Trinidad, one of the founders of the Manila Stock Exchange and once called the “Pillar of Filipino Finance,” and the late Don Manuel Elizalde, who co-founded Elizalde & Co., a vast conglomerate with vast interests in ships, rope, oil and paint manufacturing, among others, it was like looking at a mural of the early 20th century.

It is a mural of a time of war, a time of peace. A period of despair, and a season of everlasting hope. It was a time when Manila was reduced to rubble, and yet a time when the Philippines was the rising sun of the Far East.

Don Anselmo and Don Manuel embodied the rising fortunes of many Filipinos at the time, and the potential and promise the country had—like the light in an Amorsolo painting. Both tycoons, in fact, had precious Amorsolos. Among the treasures to be auctioned at tomorrow’s “Kingly Treasures” auction of Leon Gallery are Amorsolos from Don Anselmo and Don Manuel’s collection.

Don Anselmo was among the very best collectors of Amorsolos, together with Don Luis Araneta. They had first dibs straight from the oven. To have something from them is getting an Amorsolo of extreme quality and rarity,

One of the paintings in Don Anselmo’s trove is entitled “Burning of Manila” (oil on canvas 10” x 16” or 25 cm x 41 cm)signed and dated 1942 (lower left). Another painting, “Town Fiesta,” is more festive and equally arrestingSigned and dated 1947 (lower right), it is oil on masonite board (12” x 16” 30 cm x 41 cm).

Town Fiesta by Fernando Amorsolo

“Don Anselmo was among the very best collectors of Amorsolos, together with Don Luis Araneta. The very best were for them. They had first dibs straight from the oven. To have something from them is getting an Amorsolo of extreme quality and rarity,” says Leon Gallery’s Jaime Ponce de Leon.

  Burning of Manila by Fernando Amorsolo

The late former Transportation Secretary Josie Trinidad Lichauco, daughter of Don Anselmo, once reminisced in her column in The Philippine STAR (April 20, 2009) about her father’s Amorsolo paintings, “which dominated his sense of interest and fascination.”

Through his anecdotes, she discovered “the magic of Amorsolo’s colors and the beauty of their intertwining hues.” According to Josie, Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo would remark that Don Anselmo was one of the maestro’s favorite clients alongside Don Luis Araneta, Don Andres Soriano, and Don Jorge Vargas.

I would first hear of Don Anselmo Trinidad, whose fortunes were transformed by the stock exchange boom of 1935, enabling him to be a pillar of Filipino finance for several generations, from my mother Sonia. One of Don Anselmo’s daughters, Lulu, was her high school classmate at the St. Scholastica’s College in Singalong.

Don Anselmo established the first family compound on a large property on Consuelo Street in Singalong, near St. Scholastica’s before moving to Forbes Park. (My mother remembers Josie, whom I got to cover at Malacañang, as a UP campus beauty known for her brains as well.)

Josefa Benitez and Anselmo Trinidad were married on Jan. 2, 1932 in Lourdes Church in Intramuros.

Jaime describes the two Amorsolos of Don Anselmo that are up for auction: “The first of the Don Anselmo Trinidad trove at hand is a view of Quiapo and Sta. Cruz ablaze. The twin towers of the steel cathedral San Sebastian are outlined in the red glow of a conflagration. Perhaps it is the hulking block of the Great Eastern Hotel, the tallest edifice in Manila at the time, that can be seen on the right. The sky is dimmed by black clouds of burning timber and oil—as lives, hopes and dreams and almost 400 years of the city’s history go up in flames.”

The second of the Amorsolo works from the collection of Don Anselmo is a “peacetime” narrative. Painted in the same year as the “Burning of Manila,” it appears at first glance to be in sharp contrast to fiery destruction of the first painting.

Harvest, by Fernando Amorsolo

Jaime adds: “On closer examination, however, ‘Town Fiesta’ is in a far more somber mood than Amorsolo’s usual sun-dappled vistas of green rice fields and farmers briskly at work. The sky is sometime before daybreak, before the first rosy streaks of a recognizable Amorsolo sunrise appear. The work is most rare precisely because Amorsolo would produce only a very few such night scenes.

“Adding to the pensive mood of the tableau is a white dog that sits watchfully on one side. And yet, Amorsolo musters a feeling of hope. A lantern in the form of a Christmas star illuminates a scene of plenty. The golden light that bathes the town and its people is not a godly sunshine but is entirely man-made, asserting that only men should chart their own destiny.”

The Elizaldes, on the other hand, are part of my life and destiny. You see, my late father Frank Mayor was with Elizalde International from the time I was prep to the time I was in high school.

So you could say our family’s bread was buttered by our hardworking father’s employment with the Elizalde group. It was because of my father’s job with Elizalde that we lived in Iloilo for the first five years of my school life at the Assumption Convent Iloilo.

Portrait of Don Manuel ‘Manolo’ Elizalde y Moreau by Fernando Amorsolo

Don Manolo Elizalde was born to Don Joaquin Elizalde and Doña Carmen Diaz-Moreau of Spain. The Elizaldes are among the most important Basque families in the Philippines, having arrived from Elizondo in Navarre in 1846.

In less than a hundred years, they had become among the wealthiest and most influential families in the Philippines. Don Manolo, alongside his older brother Don Joaquin Miguel, would acquire one of the country’s most venerable trading conglomerates Ynchausti & Co in 1936. (The old Ynchausti & Co building in Iloilo was where my dad had his office.)

Transforming it into Elizalde & Co., they would have control over interests in ships, rope, oil and paint manufacturing, sugar concerns including a hacienda and mill, a lumber dealership, a distillery, insurance and eventually a newspaper and radio stations.

The dashing, polo-playing Elizalde brothers Manolo, Joaquin, Angel, Miguel. 

Don Manolo was also famous as a polo player alongside his three brothers who were recognized by the American Polo Association for their skill.

Amorsolo had painted him surrounded by all the trappings of big business: A sheaf of folders, perusing documents. Beside him is an ashtray and, interestingly, a paper weight in the shape of a trowel, symbolizing the laying of foundations for many new ventures to come.

“Don Manolo Elizalde was a taipan of his day,” says Jaime. His portrait, adds Jaime, “is a window to a glorious past.”

As are other Amorsolos—storytellers on canvas, witnesses and windows to a time that is no more; and to hope that burns eternal.