Fernando Amorsolo was the son of Pedro Amorsolo -- a bookkeeper -- and BonifaciaCueto. He spent his youthful daysin Daet, Camarines Norte. Whenhis father died in 1903, Bonifaciamoved the entire family to Manilato live with a first cousin, painter Fabian de la Rosa.
To raise money, young Amorsolo sold watercolor postcards to a bookstore which paid him 10 centavos a piece, while his mother did embroidery work. Somehow, he managed tocomplete his schooling at the Liceo de Manila, where he earned honorable mention in drawing and painting.
At 17 he enrolled at the University of the Philippines (UP) School where his uncle Fabian De La Rosa taught. While a student, Amorsolo lived in a rented accesoria and, in order to survive, joined competitions and did illustrations for publications, including Severino Reyes first novel, Parusa ng Diyos (Gods Punishment). He also designed chairs for the Bureau of Public Works
During college he was influenced by the works of the Spanish painter Diego de Velasquez as well as other European painters including John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida and Ignacio ZuluagaHe was one of the first graduates of the University of the Philippines in 1919, receiving several medals for excellence.
Upon graduation, he became an instructor at the UP School of Fine Arts, while at the same time working for the Bureau of Public Works. For the next 38 years, he was with UP.In 1922, he made his first important painting, Rice Planting which became one of the most popular images of the Commonwealth Period.
Amorsolo designed the logo for Ginebra San Miguel (Markang Demonyo) depicting St. Michael vanquishing the devil. The log is still in use in its original form today. The owner of the beverage company, Don Enrique Zobel, who is an ardent patron of the arts, was so impressed by his work that he offered to send Amorsolo to the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid for further studies with a generous stipend for himself and his family.
Despite his exposure to Western influences, Amorsolo retained his Filipino consciousness. He was drawn more towards the gentle rolling hills and rice fields of the Philippines rather than the cosmopolitan world of Europe’s proud cities. Even his illustrations of Spanish women were drawn with slender physiques, narrower hips, and smaller breasts more typical of Filipinas rather than full bodied Caucasian women.
After his stint in Madrid, Amorsolo came home to the Philippines ready to apply what he learned. American servicemen, officials, andbusinessmen sought out his paintingsto bring home to the States as a token of remembrance for their stay in the Philippines. One of Amorsolo’s client was Capt. Robert Kennedy who brought home to the U.S. a few of Amorsolo’s pieces and had them framed at the Art Center Gallery in New York.
The gallery owners inquired about the artist which led to Amorsolo’s first one-man show in New York in 1925. Of the 40 pieces, 24 were immediately purchased. Amorsolo often uses his family members to pose for his paintings. At one time, he made his house helpers pose for him and paid them for posing for him. His daughter asked why he had to pay them additional on top of their regular salary. He replied, "We have hired them to do housework and not to pose for me. Therefore, they should be compensated for posing for my painting".
Amorsolo’s first wife passed away in 1931 leaving him with sixchildren. He had six more childrenby a common-law wife. In 1935, he married Maria del Carmen who gave him eight more children. Fortunately, his reputation was growing as fast as his brood andhis work was more than enough to provide for his large family.
When World War II broke out in 1941 and theJapanese occupied Manila, Amorsolo lived in the city along with his family. Amorsolo rented ahouse near Raon street for his wife and children. He and some male relatives lived at their Azcarraga (now Claro M. Recto Ave) residencewhich was near a Japanese garrison. During the war, Amorsolo witnessed Filipino civilians,soldiers brought to Far Eastern University (FEU)to be jailed. According to some witnesses, when American forces attacked Manila, all of the prisoners at FEU were slaughtered by the Japanese soldiers.
Some of the subjects of Amorsolo’s paintings during World War II were about suffering and destruction. A few of these paintings are: “The rape of Manila” (1942), “Bombing of Intendencia” (1942) and “The Explosion” (1944). One of his famous war era painting is the “Defense of a Filipina Woman’s Honor” where it showed a Filipino man holding a bolo about to defend his wife and daughter from being raped by an unseen Japanese soldier. His wartime paintings are considered among his finest work and were exhibited at Malacanang Palace in 1948.
AMORSOLO, DEFENSE OF A FILIPINAWOMAN’S HONOR (1945)
After the war, Amorsolo went back to painting the bright sun-drenched countryside scenes for which he was most well-known. He reached the peak of his popularity in the late 1940’s and 1950’s garnering numerous awards. Amorsolo’s paintings were in such high demand that he photographed his art works and placedthem in an album. Prospective patrons could thenchoose from his art catalogue and Amorsolo wouldpaint them. Amorsolo did not create exact replicasof his trademark themes but instead recreated the paintings by varying some elements.
Amorsolo by then was so sure of his strokes when he painted that he is able to finish painting a picture in a very short period oftime. At one point, he was able to finish ten paintings a month. It is believed that part of hismotivation to finish a high number of paintings was to support his large family.
Some group of artists criticized Amorsolo’s machine-like efficiency in producing paintings. In the midst of a swarm of criticism, Amorsolo never raised his voice and put up a defense. There wasno shortage of people who stood up to defend the artist. Among Amorsolo’s staunchest supporterwas his best friend, Guillermo Tolentino, the finest sculptor in the Philippines. When Amorsolo wasasked why he never spoke up in his own defense, the artist responded that he had already matured as an artist. He had nothing left to prove and wascomfortable painting what he wished in the form of expression that he chose.
Amorsolo worked until the last year of his life. Age was starting to catch upwith him. He was afflicted with diabetes and arthritis in addition to his heart condition. His eyesight was also beginning to fail him and he had to undergo a cataract operation. In his later works, his failing vision led towayward brush strokes of red and blue lines where a mound of earth should be. Despite these challenges, thequality of his output remained high and his popularity never waned.
Four days after the artist died, then President Ferdinand Marcos posthumously conferred on Amorsolo the title National Artist for Painting.