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Was Felix Hidalgo the better landscape painter than Juan Luna? Jose Rizal thought so

By Devi de Veyra Published Sep 16, 2021 5:08 pm

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s tantalizing opus “Marina” is the centerpiece at Salcedo Auctions’ “The Well Appointed Life” 2021 edition. The painting completes its journey, 121 years since its creation, to reaffirm Hidalgo’s superiority over his more popular contemporary and rival, Juan Luna, in the landscape genre. 

In his book, Hidalgo & the Generation of 1872, Alfredo Roces surveys Felix Hidalgo’s works, starting from his early years as a student at the Academia Dibujo y Pintura.

At that time, the young Hidalgo already showed the remarkable gift in his possession, as can be seen in the works exhibited outside the Teatro Circo de Bilibid. Included in the exhibition are portraits and landscapes, two genres where Hidalgo would assert his dominance as a master painter. 

Of Hidalgo’s landscapes, Roces says that “this body of works deserves a separate assessment as it reveals a different and important facet of the artist…”

He continues, “Landscapes form the largest body of works he left behind,” the writer continues, albeit somewhat marginalized by the jumbo-sized, prize winning, Salon paintings. In the opinion of his friend, Jose Rizal , when it came to landscape painting, Hidalgo was superior to Luna.”

In another letter to Ferdinand Blumentritt, Rizal wrote: “Hidalgo is a better painter of landscapes than he [Luna], especially of Philippine landscapes. “ 

Hidalgo’s “Los Mendigos,” “the most outstanding of this Philippine Period,” according to Alfredo Roces. “In the subject matter, Hidalgo reveals a remarkable sensitivity and keen social awareness.”

Roces cites other favorable reviews, from the pre-war critic Ignacio Manlapaz, for example, with which he concurs by saying, “Amen.”

Hidalgo’s gift sparkled in one other genre: “To Hidalgo’s rich and artistic repertoire must also be included that of master portraitist,” wrote Roces. The author described a unique attribute, arrested movement, that distinguished Hidalgo’s portraits, “as if the subjects are about to speak, rendered with a unique softness of line and form, the brush strokes applied in swift, bold authoritative gestures, the backgrounds plain, neutral and almost flat.”

In Hidalgo we find everything light in color, harmony, feeling, clearness, like the Philippines on moonlit nights, with her horizons inviting infinity.

The emergence of “Marina” at Salcedo Auctions brings focus to the singular qualities of Hidalgo’s paintings, which is not lost to some present-day artists. 

“Magaling lang talaga siya na painter,” Ling Quisimbing exclaims. “His landscapes, seascapes, sketches that I saw at the Lopez Museum—ang gaganda! Hindi siya ‘over.’ It’s romantic, I guess. Ang ganda ng softness niya. And it's so abstract the way he paints it … that’s hard to pull off, with just a few brush strokes.” 

“Marina,” 1900, oil on canvas. The painting comes with a receipt from a Paris gallery, issued in 1926. It emerged in a small Barcelona auction house in 2020, where its present owner purchased the painting.

Dex Fernandez laments the lack of focus on Hidalgo’s practice. “In our art classes, Hidalgo was just mentioned,” he says. “ The focus was always on Juan Luna. Pero mas gusto ko yung style ni Hidalgo. Magaling, in fact I think mas magaling siya kay Luna. When you think about it, their color palettes are similar, the subject can be the same too. But when it comes to the strokes, mas expressive si Hidalgo …  mas hindi takot. Mas nagwawala. Tsaka hindi siya sumabay sa trends, hindi siya nag-stick sa ‘safe’ na style.” 

“Marina” is accompanied by Hidalgo’s boceto—another fine example of the artist’s supreme draftsmanship. Both are offered at the Salcedo auction on Sept. 18.

“Maganda rin ang ilaw ni Hidalgo,” Dex continues, “nagba-bounce yung ilaw, very realistic. Maski ilagay mo sa madilim na kuwarto yung pyesa ni Hidalgo, nagglo-glow …  parang may sariling mundo.”

Agnes Arellano confesses that she’s “more attracted to Hidalgo’s works.” “Mas sweet … mas malambot … more romantic? Gusto ko yung tubig niya. Overall, his paintings are very lyrical. 

La Pintura broke the international record in just 9 minutes of bidding at Salcedo Auctions.

Though trained in the tradition of European schools, Hidalgo took strides outside of that box to find his own artistic path. “So in Hidalgo we find everything light in color, harmony, feeling, clearness, like the Philippines on moonlit nights, with her horizons inviting infinity,” according to Rizal. But for Roces, the artist’s painting style is all his own: “In fact, Hidalgo’s vague, wispy, misty, ethereal rendition of sea and sky, of grieving women beneath a silent moon, are not so much European or Filipino, as they are decidedly Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.”

Visit www.salcedoauctions.com for the online catalogue and bid registration, email [email protected], call +632 88230956, +63 9171075581.