Salcedo Stories

From the Skies to the Seas: The Finer Pursuits of Alfredo Carmelo

From the Skies to the Seas: The Finer Pursuits of Alfredo Carmelo

  • 1 June 2023

The perfect description of Don Alfredo Carmelo was that he was the Filipino Renaissance man of the 20th century: a remarkable aviator – he was the first certified pilot in the Philippines – a naval engineer, a printer, a businessman, and an all-around sportsman. Within the art community, he was also known for single-handedly elevating the position of marine painting. Indeed, if there was anyone who perfectly embodied finding joy in pursuing the finer things in life, it was Don Alfredo.

Born in 1896, Carmelo came from a family with prestigious lineage. His father, Eulalio Carmelo y Lakandula, traced his ancestral roots back to the rulers of Old Tondo. Alfredo’s mother, Maxima Casas, hailed from a family with a military background. Don Eulalio was co-founder of a printing shop called Litografia de Carmelo y Bauermann, the first and oldest printing press in the country.

SAStories-2023-0601-From the Skies to the Seas-01

Portraits of Doña Maxima Casas and Don Eulalio Carmelo by eminent turn of the century artist Fabian de la Rosa. These portraits are up on offer at the forthcoming Salcedo Auctions’ ‘Finer Pursuits’ auction on June 3, 2023.

Carmelo enjoyed a fortunate upbringing. He studied elementary school in Ateneo before his uncle enrolled him at the Liceo de Manila, known for its rigid military training. His uncle also taught him horseback riding, a sport that would remain a lifelong passion. The boy also traveled in and out of the country with his parents during vacations. It was during these sea voyages when the young Alfredo was most happy. The sailing trips fueled his grade-school fascination with ships. He even wanted to become a sailor, but his mother put her foot down and enrolled him in fine arts instead. Here, Alfredo found a creative outlet for his obsession and painted ships at sea–a subject matter rarely explored in his classes.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, Carmelo was in Leipzig, Germany studying lithography. He was preparing to take over his late father’s place in their printing business. It was here where Alfredo came closer to his passion of flying airplanes–a dream he had since he was a child watching American flyers over Luneta during Manila Carnival. Such was his determination to learn aviation that he found time to take flying lessons at the Lindenthal Flug Schule, while studying lithography and going to high school at the same time.

When he returned to Manila, Carmelo enrolled at the Philippine School of Aviation, or the Curtiss Flying School, in November 1919 as a civilian trainee. Two months later, he was allowed to make his first solo flight without supervision. Accomplishing the feat also qualified him a certificate as the first licensed civilian pilot in the country.

As a man that did not settle for simply knowing how to fly, Carmelo went a step further and took advanced flight lessons, and even bought his own plane to fully focus on his lessons. He found his true calling in aerobatics, a form of flying that he regarded as the real art of flying. It demanded discipline, coordination, precision, and a profound self-awareness of his own limitations.

Alfredo mastered the art and science of flying, and would soar up the skies for forty years until he was seventy-five years old. (image source: Alice Guillermo, ‘Alfredo Guillermo: His Life and His Art,’ p. 15)

Alfredo Carmelo (right) with President Manuel L. Quezon (left) at the Malacañang Palace. (image courtesy of Mariel Tolentino)

The great rush of speed thrilled Carmelo. It was not limited to the skies alone; it extended to his love for sports cars as well. He established himself as a dedicated connoisseur of luxury speed cars, such as a French Bugatti among many others. When it came to the sea, however, Carmelo loved to take it slow. He cherished the experience of being at sea, delighting in lounging aboard a boat and indulging in the rhythmic rocking motion and gentle sway of the vessel. He also bought yachts to embark on leisurely cruises in Manila Bay, even featuring it in one of his paintings.

Carmelo’s passion for ships took a tangible form when he began crafting intricate models of them in 1929. He took naval engineering to acquire a comprehensive understanding of the intricate workings and construction of these vessels. With remarkable ingenuity and resourcefulness, he meticulously fashioned the various components of the models using a wide array of materials. However, as his collection of ship models grew, space became a constraint within their house. To address this challenge, Carmelo made a transition from creating ship models to expressing his maritime fascination through marine paintings instead.

Carmelo’s paintings embody a rare and harmonious fusion of scientific authenticity and artistic excellence. In his pursuit of marine painting, he understood that the dynamic interplay between the sky and the sea in maritime scenes added an extra layer of depth and harmony, elevating the overall composition. He adeptly employed his intimate familiarity with sailing ships into ensuring their accuracy in every brushstroke, from the ropes to the rudders. He paid close attention to the relationships between the subjects–the tides, wave patterns, cloud formations, light and shadows–resulting in scenic views coming to life.

Alfredo Carmelo’s oil on canvas ‘Farewell at Barcelona Port’ completed in 1979. Carmelo portrays three distinct vessels– a full-masted schooner, a skiff, and a notable Barcelona ferryboat.

Examining the life of Alfredo Carmelo reveals a man who embraced life with unwavering enthusiasm and fearlessness. He exuded a larger-than-life persona, yet to his family, he was a man with an immense capacity for love and a brilliant mind.

Three generations of the Carmelo Family. (image courtesy of Mariel Tolentino)

Carmelo approached every endeavor with a wholehearted commitment, leaving no room for half-measures. He devoted himself fully, pouring meticulous precision and impeccable skill into all that he pursued–from soaring the skies to rendering the seas.

Reference: Alice Guillermo, Alfredo Carmelo, His Life and Art, 1990.

Alberto Carmelo’s ‘Farewell at Barcelona Port’ is among the over 200 lots on offer at the forthcoming ‘Finer Pursuits: Important Philippine Art & Rare Collectibles’ live and online auction on Saturday, 3 June 2023, at 2PM. The sale also includes the portraits of the artist’s parents Doña Maxima Casas and Don Eulalio Carmelo by the turn-of-the-century master Fabian de la Rosa.

Figurative abstractionist and National Artist Ang Kiukok headlines the sale with his imposing oil on canvas titled Man and Dog that boasts of a sterling provenance, in addition to having a formidable publication and exhibition history. He is joined by fellow National Artists J. Elizalde Navarro, Arturo Luz, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, and Cesar Legaspi; leading modernists Justin Nuyda, Nena Saguil, and Onib Olmedo and renowned contemporary artists Betsy Westendorp, Mark Justiniani, Ramon Orlina, and Ronald Ventura.

Preview the full catalogue and register to bid at the ‘Finer Pursuits: Important Philippine Art & Rare Collectibles’ auction ( Saturday 3 June 2023) via this link