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September 09, 2010


It was in a painting competition that we had our first international recognition. At the Exposicion Nacional de Bellas Artes, there were earlier accounts that a Filipino student named Alfonso Calderon placed in 1866. What is certain is that a student Juan Novicio Luna won the silver medal at the same Madrid Art Exposition of 1881 for the seminal work, Death of Cleopatra, which he painted while on an excursion in Rome. Held every three years at the Salon in Madrid, the 26-year old Luna would even win the first gold medal for the masterpiece Spoliarium three years later. It will also be the same occasion that another Filipino named Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo will win the silver medal for his Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho, which is now part of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Painting Collection.

It has always been the young and uninitiated that the lure for recognition seems strongest. Founder Purita Kalaw-Ledesma told author Cid Reyes in an interview that not only did the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) become a formally organized art association; it also provided the venue for competition that has become the perennial rite of passage when Filipino artists were starting out. “The beauty of [AAP] competitions, [is that] students usually defeated their professors. This happened many times and that’s why we discovered many raw and emerging talents. [Juvenal] Sanso for example won first prize defeating his professors. I will not mention names, but time has proved that the judges were right about Sanso.” Kalaw-Ledesma recalls.

AAP’s first offing in 1948 saw Carlos “Botong” Francisco winning first prize with Kaingin showing farmers tilling their fields. So playful was the 35 year-old future maestro as he was so engrossed with playing basketball in Angono that he would even fail to attend the awarding ceremonies scheduled at the National Museum (then at Herran) with an impatient President Elpidio Quirino and other guests waiting for him in vain.

Through generations after, the AAP Art Competition saw the likes of National Artists Jose Joya and Arturo Luz, Fernando Zobel, Federico Alcuaz, and Roberto Chabet Rodriguez winning the coveted plum. Getting temporary access to the few public exhibition venues in the metropolis was more than enough to the then struggling painter in them.

For the full text, go to this link: (page 46)