Along the busy and congested Taft Avenue sits a neoclassical building, newly refurbished, with the words “National Museum” plastered on it in large, block letters. It is a familiar sight for most students coming from the north, especially those who ride the LRT. Just one jeepney and an overpriced pedicab ride away from De La Salle University, this structure is one enveloped in culture and history.
In celebration of National Heritage Month, the National Museum has opened its doors for free for the duration of the entirety of May. It stands, waiting for you to step in and absorb the beauty of the work hanging on its walls, and sitting in its hollowed spaces.
The entrance to this grand place is through the side facing Padre Burgos Avenue. Markers about the history of the building welcome you, detailing its past as the Legislative Building of the government. Inside, Indian red colored walls surround you as you walk along the hallways of the second floor, where the tours usually start. The color of the hallways and galleries are reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie, providing the perfect background for the works of art.
There aren’t many guides, aside from a few arrow signs around the North and South Wing galleries in the second and third floors. And although you shouldn’t worry about getting lost, taking photos of these guides may be helpful, especially if you are in search of a specific exhibit. Honestly, though, wandering around aimlessly adds to the wonder of the experience.
There are approximately 25 exhibitions inside the museum, with a Master’s Hall, which houses possibly the most famous piece in the entire museum, Juan Luna’s famous mural, Spolarium. Displayed across Spolarium is another painting, El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante (The Assassination of Governor Bustamante) by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo. The grandiosity of the paintings is indeed astonishing. It makes you think about the history behind these works of art, the time and effort that went into making them and returning them to the Philippines. An untitled sculpture of a diwata by National Artist Guillermo Tolentino welcomes you to the hall.
Galleries I to VI: Isabelo Tampinco, Fernando Amorsolo, and Jose Rizal
Exhibitions of the National Art Gallery begin on the second level, or House Floor. The South Wing is where Galleries I to VI are located. Gallery I has orange colored walls and checkered floors, again lending to the unique character of the building. It displays religious art from the 17th to 19th centuries, and even features a National Cultural Treasure, a retablo or altar piece from the Church of San Nicolas de Tolentino in Dimiao, Bohol.
The maroon colored walls of Gallery II are lined with frames of botanical paintings, such as the interestingly named breadfruit, or kamansi, commissioned by Spanish botanist and pharmacologist Juan José de Cuéllar in the mid-1700s. Meanwhile, Gallery III is filled with portraits from the last three decades of the 19th century, featuring works from Juan Luna, Felix Hidalgo, Lorenzo Guerrero, and other key contemporaries. National Cultural Treasures, Feeding the Chickens by Simon Flores and Una Bulaqueña by Juan Luna, are also housed in the gallery.
Gallery IV contains sculptures from the academic and neoclassical period, including the work of master Filipino sculptor Isabelo L. Tampinco. The gallery also features works of other artists, including Florante Caedo, who created the sculpture of St. John Baptist De La Salle seen in the Marian Quadrangle in campus. Meanwhile, Gallery V pays homage to Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero. It contains busts and paintings of the hero by prominent Filipino artists, as well as Rizal’s own sculptures Bust of Ricardo Carnicero, San Pablo Ermitano, Oyang Dapitana, and Mother’s Revenge, a declared National Cultural Treasure. A highlight is his drawing of the view of Gendarmenmarkt from his 1886 trip to Berlin, which was mesmerizing and greatly detailed.
The works of Fernando Amorsolo, Fabian de la Rosa, Ireneo Miranda, and other similar artists are featured in Gallery VI, which contains classical art from the 20th century. An interesting portion of the gallery is an unfinished painting entitled Portrait of a Lady by Fernando Amorsolo, positioned beside a replica of Amorsolo’s work station.
Galleries VII to XII: Sketches, studies, and sculptures
Galleries VII to XII are located on the North Wing, although some were closed for renovation at the time of visit and could not be observed. Gallery VIII contains scenes from World War II as depicted by Filipino artists. A warning is given that some of the displays might be disturbing to some viewers, although unfortunately, the gallery was among those under renovation.
Gallery X (whose door handle is signed by Napoleon Abueva) houses The Progress of Medicine in the Philippines by Carlos “Botong” V. Francisco, a set of four large paintings specially commissioned in 1953 for the entrance hall of the Philippine General Hospital, also declared as a National Cultural Treasure. Gallery XI, on the other hand, has powder blue walls and contains drawings by Fernando C. Amorsolo. On display are black and white pencil and ink sketches, and oil studies of Amorsolo’s subjects made before the final artwork. It is amazing to see how his masterpieces stemmed from a couple of squiggly lines and shapes. A work by his nephew, Cesar Amorsolo is also featured.
Finally, Gallery XII contains sculptures by National Artist Guillermo E. Tolentino, with one highlight being his Model for the Commonwealth Triumphal Arch.
Senate floor galleries: Modern art and memorabilia
Exhibitions continue on the third level or Senate Floor. It starts with the Old Senate Session Hall, which was originally designed to be a library in the early 1920s. The ornamentation in the hall was created by the aforementioned master sculptor, Isabelo Tampinco, and his sons Angel and Vidal. Standing figures of great lawmakers and moralists of history, ranging from Biblical times to the 20th century, line its entablature.
The South Wing includes more galleries, but this time, some of the artworks line the white-walled hallways. The South Wing Hallway Gallery features Philippine Abstraction from the 1960s to the 1980s, including an undated painting by Mike Aquino called Confetti Rhythm, which is reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s No. 5, 1948. Gallery XIV on the other hand, features modern Philippine art from the 1920s to the 1970s. This movement was headed by National Artist Victorio C. Edades, and the gallery features works by him, German Icarangal, Nestor Leynes, and other similar artists.
Gallery XV houses a special exhibition called Dimasalang (1968-1978): Artists’ Collections which contains the work of artist friends Emilio “Abe” Aguilar Cruz, Sofronio “SYM” Y. Mendoza, Romulo Galiciano, Ibarra dela Rosa, and Andres Cristobal Cruz, who spoke of art together in Dimasalang Street, Manila. The bright pastel green walls frame the bright colors of the paintings perfectly.
The North Wing also has hallway galleries, starting with the Northeast Hallway Gallery, which contains artworks with interesting political and social commentary. Meanwhile, Gallery XX contains treasures of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) Collection. It features more paintings by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, as well as work by Juan Luna.
The GSIS North Hallway Gallery showcases the works of National Artist Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, along with some works from the GSIS Collection, The Aguilar Family Collection, and the National Museum Collection. Meanwhile, Gallery XXIII features works of modern painter and National Artist Vicente S. Manansala, with a highlight being memorabilia from the Manansala Family Collection. Lastly, Gallery XXV or the Philam Life Hall, houses seven large paintings, which were commissioned by the Philippine-American General Life Insurance Company to Vicente S. Manansala for their building in UN Avenue, Manila.
The numbering of the galleries became a little confusing towards the end, but at the end of the day, several highlights throughout the museum stood out, from the famous Spolarium, to the numerous sculptures and paintings, to the various collections and works of modern art.
Whether or not you are an art aficionado, a visit to the National Museum can prove both informative and entertaining. The work that you will be seeing will not only leave you in awe, but show you a side of our history made beautifully and forever immortalized in the canvasses and sculptures.
If you were not able to visit the National Museum this May, come and enjoy the Museum and the many cultural treasures it offers for free on Sundays and the entire month of October, when the Museum celebrates its anniversary.