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A tale of P53-million baskets: Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s ‘Women with Baskets, Fish and Crab’

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published Jun 07, 2021 3:38 pm

Anita Magsaysay-Ho continued to make headlines with the recent coup of “Women with Baskets, Fish and Crab,” which reaped P53 Million (inclusive of buyer’s premium) in last Saturday’s Spectacular Mid-Year Auction at León Gallery, making it the Philippines’ most expensive wicker baskets.

The painting of three women wreathed by eight baskets once belonged to Charito Panganiban Melchor, who had bequeathed it to her eldest son. Charito was married to the technocrat Alex Melchor, a trusted adviser to nine different Philippine presidents.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s “Women with Baskets, Fish, and Crab”

She was Anita’s student during the war and they had grown to be fast friends. Magsaysay-Ho had been recorded as saying that baskets are the most difficult to paint, presenting a unique challenge of balancing shadow and light.

Jaime Ponce de Leon, director of León Gallery, remarked that this set another world record for Anita’s highly desirable works from her “Green Period.”

Fernando Zobel’s “Gestos The Boinas II (78-74)”

Ang Kiukok’s “Fighting Figures”

Magsaysay-Ho has consistently dominated the list of the Philippines’ most in-demand (and therefore most valuable) artworks alongside fellow modernists Jose Joya and Ang Kiukok.

It was, in fact, a day for shattering world records. Lao Lianben, beloved by collectors for his austere but contemplative works, broke new ground and established a new record with “Gestures,” which took in P14 million. A slightly larger work entitled “Secrets” was not far behind at P13 Million.

Takashi Murakami’s “Hollow Multi (TBC)”

Three more new milestones were established for highest prices paid for Manuel Ocampo, Norma Belleza and Pacita Abad as well. Abad, who is a poster girl for contemporary women’s art on the international scene, established a world record for her exuberant tapestry titled “Rapture” at P3 million.

Gilded age masters Felix Lorenzo Martinez and Miguel Zaragoza also scored highs in the same P8-million range — brothers-in arms as well as in auction — marking a lifetime friendship in the arts and letters.

Miguel Zaragoza’s “ A Country Lass”

A rare “Letras y Figuras” signed by Jose Honorato Lozano matched the previous auction’s returns, pound for pound, at P17.5 million. This was a repatriated treasure discovered abroad.

“Fish Vendors” by Vicente S. Manansala, from distinguished collector Dr. Guillermo Damian, hit P18 million.

Vicente Manansala’s “Fish Vendors”

The Legarda trove continued to produce results worthy of his carefully accumulated treasures. Star lots included a bulul-faced million-peso St. Michael the Archangel, grinding his heel on an eerily coiled Satan and a well-documented Lorenzo Guerrero, apart from various 17th-century bas-reliefs or relleves.

Fernando Zobel’s “Gestos : The Boinas II” brought in almost P15 Million; while his namesake Fernando Amorsolo’s “Tinikling,” one of his most prized themes, clocked in at P13 million.

Lao Lianben’s “Gestures”

Sterling results were racked up by blue-chip artists Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera, Elmer Borlongan, Romulo Olazo, and Ang Kiukok, indicating the market’s hunger for “investment-grade” artworks. BenCab’s “Sabel” turned in a solid showing at P23million for a 5-foot tall artwork of this highly coveted mystery woman.

Ang Kiukok’s “Fighting Figures” attracted almost P9 million for this powerful, enigmatic work.

San Miguel Arkanghel

“People love Ang because of his modern sensibility,” noted Jaime Ponce de Leon, “that resonates powerfully in these times. This was a stellar work that epitomized Ang’s angst.”

The auction also marked the concerted entry of regional stars Murakami, Le Pho, Christine Ay Tjoe, as well as celebrated expat and stalwart of the legendary Philippine Art Gallery Romeo Tabuena.


Takeshi Murakami’s “Hollow Multi (TBC)” accomplished a tad over P18 million; while Tabuena’s epic work, once exhibited at Mexico’s Museum of Fine Arts, came in at almost P5 million.

Finally, a ravishing toothpick holder became the world’s most expensive pineapple. At P3 million, this 19th-century rarity underlined the Filipino’s artistry as well as his taste for whimsy.