Salcedo Stories

Anita Magsaysay-Ho, in art as in life

Anita Magsaysay-Ho, in art as in life

  • 30 June 2022

Anita Magsaysay-Ho (1914-2012) was that rare individual whose art perfectly mirrored her life. Grace and quiet dignity brushed onto canvas, dappled crags, winsome crafts, jewel colors, and most characteristically, lithe figures hard at work yet effortlessly at play rekindling childhood memories and, as an expatriate wife to a shipping magnate, experiences of her beloved homeland, celebrating the very essence and spirit of the Filipino woman.

What is fascinating about the artist is that there has truly been no waning of the public’s interest in her work, continuously capturing the interest and, indeed, collecting desires of the country’s—and for that matter the region’s—most discerning art aficionados with her masterful balance of technical bravura and distinctive compositional style that always conveys serenely.

SAStories-2022-0630-ARTSPEAK Anita Magsaysay-Ho-01

A photograph of Anita Magsaysay-Ho amid bright yellow blooms taken in 2002 by Rupert Jacinto.

As one of the leading figures in the development of modern art in the Philippines, and being the only woman who belonged to the vanguard “Thirteen Moderns,” Magsaysay-Ho’s career earned her numerous accolades, the most impressive of which was winning consecutive first and second prizes at the annual Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) competitions in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

I strongly believe—and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say—that beyond the view that her leitmotif is an embodiment of her own strength and calm resilience as wife, mother, and artist, it is the contented plenitude of life’s blessings that the artist herself enjoyed (and indeed channeled onto her oeuvres) that viewers are mesmerized by and subtly drawn to.

‘Women Fishing,’ 1971, Mixed media on board

It is this “harvest of blessings” that I am referring to, which is perfectly reflected in an impressive work that I presently have the sheer joy of experiencing: “Women Fishing” painted in 1971, its massive size and stunning subdued jewel tones capturing the gaze as I imagine viewers immersing themselves in its stylistic inkblots. Seemingly randomly scattered, these delicate details that were influenced by Chinese calligraphy, formed rocks, vegetation, and driftwood in the artist’s mind’s eye. Disparate elements woven together like the baskets held by the subjects, bringing together five women dressed in the artist’s signature clothing style—a blouse, tapis, and white bandanas—as they joyfully lose themselves fishing along a golden shoreline.

This same aura of auspiciousness permeates a rare and unusual addition to Magsaysay-Ho’s body of work, a mosaic rendered in semi-precious stones and hardwood authorized by and executed in collaboration with local artisans. Anyone acquainted with the artist’s earlier pieces, in particular her egg temperas, are aware of her affinity for decisive, angular lines with distended figures, and bold strokes that have a sense of rhythm. “Untitled (Women with Baskets and Fishes)” presents these same formal distortions, this time carefully composed and meticulously crafted.

‘Untitled (Women with Baskets and Fish),’ Philippine jade and wood mosaic

Worth noting in both the painting and the mosaic are the subtle shifts in the position of the subjects. Whereas the latter and later work shows the fishing women at the center, the larger work instead interestingly has the women arranged in the periphery, and yet positioned in such a way as they encircle the central space, the positions of the figures all together forming a tight and quiet whorl. Ensconced in their own intimate world, silently working with baskets and nets, Magsaysay-Ho’s women with eyelids shut and upturned smiles blissfully traipse in a dreamlike idyll.

Outsiders may perhaps be left in utter awe, wondering and gazing curiously at these enigmatic scenes. But to those among us who, like the artist, understand what it means to live one’s best life and to dwell in one’s own truth, the works of Anita Magsaysay-Ho speak volumes about the finer things worth pursuing, and that which gives to our existence meaning.

The tremendous success of the recent ‘Finer Pursuits‘ auction was heralded by the sale of the stunning 1971 Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting ‘Women Fishing,’ which sold at Php 26,864,000, over twice its published estimate – the highest price for a work by the artist in her distinctive ‘ink blot’ style.

Consignments to Salcedo’s upcoming marquee auction ‘The Well-Appointed Life’ are currently being accepted. Send images of your fine art, furniture, jewelry, timepieces, and valuable collectibles to For inquiries, email [email protected], phone +63 917 825 7449.