“In 1968 he was invited to the Philippines to paint Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and other members of that country’s elite.”
Claudio Bravo’s six-month sojourn in Manila merited just this one sentence in his New York Times obituary, published June of last year. Forty-four years ago, the then 32-year-old Chilean artist had yet to break out into the international art scene. It took another two years before he made it to New York, where he sealed his reputation with his lyrical hyperrealistic paintings. Just like Fraulein Maria, his favorites veered towards “bright paper packages tied up with string” and, later on, bolts of luxuriant fabric and poetic still lifes.
Yet that brief interlude in our fair city, originally intended to last just a fortnight, yielded an exceptional trove of 29 portraits, now on exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Manila. For a reputed fee of US$5,000.00 per piece (US$33,000.00 or P1.3 Million in today’s money), his sitters could only have come from the city’s wealthiest families. But judging from what we see hanging around the Met, they all got bargains.
Yes Bravo’s portraits meant to flatter. One expected them to hang in the most prominent places at the homes of these society doyennes. The New York Times says, “…Mr. Bravo rooted his commonplace objects in a rich art-historical soil that lent depth and mystery to his work.” You could say the same about his Manila pieces. While they do capture an era (check out the beehives!), Bravo imbued them with so much more. His colors, his compositions, his attention to detail make them wondrous works.
My favorite is that of National Artist for Architecture Leandro Locsin and his wife, Cecilia. Bravo painted them to one side, looking off to a distance. Artfully arranged before them are objects that speak of their interests: a metal ruler, sheets of music, a chessboard, pieces of pottery. Mrs. Locsin delicately holds aloft what seems like an artifact tied to a string.
Perhaps Claudio Bravo’s Manila portraits, like those of his earlier ones in Spain, provided sustenance for his later, more important work. Yet, one can’t help but marvel how lucky we are that he did find reason to linger. Perhaps, he already knew then what we’re waiting for the world to discover: that’s it’s really more fun in the Philippines.
Claudio Bravo, Sojourn In Manila runs from 18 September to 20 October 2012 at the Tall Galleries Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Complex, Roxas Blvd, Manila. Phone (632) 708-7829 or visit www.metmuseum.ph and https://www.facebook.com/metmuseum.manila