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Why Hidalgo is less remembered than Luna

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (1855-1913), while acknowledged as one of the greatest Filipino painters of the late 19th century, has unfortunately languished under the shadow of his friend and contemporary, Juan Luna (1857-1899).

They were both awarded medals in the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, but Luna’s gold has always shone brighter than Hidalgo’s silver. Both were gifted artists, and some people say Hidalgo was, technically, a better painter than Luna. But why the difference in the auction prices for their works, or in the esteem of their countrymen?

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Perhaps the difference lies in their lives. Luna’s tragic life peaked when he murdered his wife and mother-in-law in Paris. Hidalgo, on the other hand, led a long, quiet life painting in his Paris studio; he also lived longer abroad than in the Philippines. Unlike Luna, Hidalgo was not involved in the reform movement, although he counted the major players like Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce and Graciano Lopez Jaena as friends, or at least nodding acquaintances.

Hidalgo returned to Manila briefly in 1912, long after the turbulence of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War, to complete paperwork needed for his part in the estate built by his old and ailing mother. Unlike Antonio and Juan Luna, he was not implicated in or imprisoned during the first phase of the Philippine Revolution; unlike the brothers Luna, he was also not closely associated with the First Philippine Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo.

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During the fateful years that saw the birth of the nation, Hidalgo was painting seascapes in Paris. If he had dipped his toe into the river of Philippine history, he appeared to have retreated from the cold, and so ended up a footnote in our textbooks.

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo was born in Manila on Feb. 21, 1855, the third of a brood of seven, the fruit of the union of Eduardo Resurreccion Hidalgo and Maria Barbara Padilla, who would be immortalized in midlife and old age by her son. These tender paintings are now owned by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

In an age before photography, upper-class Filipinos recorded their likeness in commissioned portraits; some had grand ones made for their well-appointed living rooms, others preferred portable miniatures painted on sheets of tin or ivory. One of the more famous portrait painters in 19th-century Philippines, Antonio Malantic (or Melantic, depending on the source you are reading), made a portrait of Narciso Hidalgo and his grandson in 1859. It is a wonderful work showing two figures two generations apart, and it illustrates how history changes even the titles of artworks. In 1859, this Malantic work was known as “Narciso Hidalgo and his grandson.” But today, it is better known as “Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and his grandfather”—the grandson in adulthood eclipsing the grandfather.

We have no record of Felix’s early schooling, though we can presume he had a private tutor or was taught by his mother, a businesswoman who had attended the Escuela Municipal. He completed a Bachiller en Filosofia in 1871 at the University of Santo Tomas. He was implicated in a student demonstration that gained significance in the persecution that followed the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora in 1872. O.D. Corpuz describes the period best as the “Terror of 1872”; it wiped out a whole generation of liberal Filipinos. Perhaps Felix retired to his studio and hid from the Terror by devoting his life to painting.

Felix enrolled in the Manila Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura, the school of drawing and painting run by Agustin Saez, a Spaniard.

Luna also studied here briefly and, depending on the book you are reading, either left on his own or was expelled from school.

Saez was a good teacher but a mean man. In 1877, Domingo Vidal y Soler held a contest for the frontispiece of a grand edition of Manuel Blanco’s “Flora de Filipinas.” Hidalgo won second place, and would probably have won the top prize, if the more experienced school director Saez did not compete with his students.

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Hidalgo, Luna, Rizal and other classmates then sailed to Europe for further studies, and, depending on their political choices, became part of or were forgotten by textbook history.

All these reflections, coming from an afternoon in the National Museum Hall of the Masters.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]

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TAGS: ambeth ocampo, felix resurreccion hidalgo, Filipino, juan luna, National Museum, painters, painting
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