Picking up from our first leg of our museum tour after a late lunch, we walked over to the majestic structure adjacent to the National Museum of Anthropology – the Old Legislative Building located at Padre Burgos Drive across the Walled City of Intramuros, fronting the Manila City Hall. For those not in the know, this was the previous address of both Houses of Congress and Senate. We queued under the scorching afternoon sun for about 30 minutes for the second part of our tour to view the National Fine Arts Collection.
On exhibit here are some of the masterpieces of illustrious icons in visual arts, for which they are hailed as national artists. Greeting visitors in the foyer of the main hall is an imposing sculpture of a winged goddess by Guillermo Tolentino, who was the same artistic genius behind the Bonifacio Monument in Caloocan City. Once inside the inner chamber or what used to be the Senate Hall, one can’t help but be regaled by the humongous sight. Sprawled across the wide, wide wall is the art galleries’ piece de resistance – Juan Luna’s priceless, world-renowned and critically-acclaimed masterpiece, the Spolarium.
The next gallery is dedicated to the works of the old masters, Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo. Much of Luna’s pieces depict life in Paris, where he maintained an atelier in his flat during his prolific days. It helped that I caught an episode of the TV documentary program, Front Row, where producer-host Howie Severino went on an expedition to Paris to get an inside look at the private life of Filipino-blooded hero-artist Luna. I felt privileged to come face-to-face with some of the oil-on-canvass paintings I only previously saw on the TV screen and be privy to the stories behind them. Hidalgo’s paintings, on the other hand, while they showcased his adept brush strokes, used predominantly subdued, muted colors and subjects that failed to personally connect with me.
There’s another side of our national hero, Jose Rizal, that I didn’t know much about until this tour. As a visual artist, he definitely has mastery and sensitivity, both as painter and sculptor. However, only one precious, carefully-preserved artwork with the Berlin Square as subject, was available for viewing. It felt frustrating to take a picture of it, because its protective glass encasing glared from the lights and the reflection of the window across it marred the photographic image. But what really amazed me was Rizal’s small but meticulously-sculpted terracotta piece titled “Pablo el Ermitaňo,” where attention to detail is visibly evident.
Several other artists also shared the limelight in their own designated areas – Juvenal Sanso, Vicente Manansala, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, Napoleon Abueva, Victorio Edades, Cesar Legaspi, Mauro Malang Santos, Anita Magsaysay-Ho, Impy Pilapil, Romulo Olazo……….just to name a few of those I have become familiar with. I was introduced to a handful of period as well as modern artists whose names I have encountered for the very first time.
A visit to the National Museum is not only educational, enlightening and enriching, but it likewise leaves you with a sense of pride for being a Filipino. It is good to be reminded of our Filipino roots and our identity as a nation through our historical past and rich cultural heritage. It is also highly recommended as a de-stressing therapy. Regrettably, I was not able to cover all grounds. A day’s tour is not an ample enough time to browse through all the museum’s open chambers, especially for someone like me who takes pains either to take photos or appreciate and absorb what I find captivating.
The National Museum is open daily from Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. There is a regular entrance fee of P150.00 during weekdays (with discounts for students, senior citizens and groups). On Sundays, it is open to the general public for free.