Salcedo Stories

Legacy Redefined: The Well-Appointed Life of Betsy Westendorp

Legacy Redefined: The Well-Appointed Life of Betsy Westendorp

  • 26 July 2020

Little did Betsy Westendorp know that her passion for painting, something she nursed at a young age beginning with painting the portraits of her family members, would become a lifelong passion that would bring her into contact with some of the most famous people in local and international history.

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Betsy’s favorite painting entitled ‘Incomplete Family’ depicts her with her children as she leans against the armchair where her late husband used to sit

Isabelle Maria Westendorp, nicknamed “Betsy” after her aunt, first moved to the Philippines at the age of 21 after marrying Antonio ‘Tony’ Brias, an executive of San Miguel Corporation. After Brias’ retirement, the couple moved back to Spain.

It was during one of her trips to the Casas Colgadas, also known as Hanging Houses, in Cuenca, Spain- a complex of houses which were used to house the Spanish abstract art collection of Fernando Zóbel – that the Philippine Ambassador to Spain, Luis ‘Chito’ Gonzalez, invited Betsy to represent the Philippines during the Filipino week of the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica in Madrid.

“He asked me if I was ready,” shares Westendorp. “And I said I am not ready, but with your help, I will be.” The portrait artist recognized the need to present paintings of important people, figures who would be easily recognized by the public who visited the exhibition. And so Vicky Quirino, daughter of the late President Elpidio Quirino and wife of Ambassador Gonzalez, took it upon herself to find Betsy’s sitters.

She did not disappoint.

A few days later, Betsy received a phone call from Vicky. “She said Betsy, I’m going to give you a phone number which is the number of the house of Don Juan Carlos (then the heir presumptive to the Spanish throne). You’re going to tell [the caretaker] that you are the Filipino painter who will paint [his son] Don Felipe (the current reigning King of Spain).” Which is how Betsy came to paint the portraits of the children of the royal family. The rest, as they say, is history.

Betsy creating the portrait of Infante Don Felipe, the future King Felipe VI of Spain

Betsy would go on to exhibit with international galleries such as the Instituto de Cultura Hispánica in Madrid, the Hastings Gallery in New York, and local institutions such as the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and Ayala Museum. One of the few artists in the country to have received cultural distinctions from two nations, Westendorp was bestowed the honor of the Presidential Medal of Merit for Art and Culture by former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as well as the Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabel la Catolica from the former King of Spain, Juan Carlos.

In Spain, Betsy was known the Pintora de Principes. She painted the portraits of the royal children or Infantes de España: Infanta Doña Elena, Infanta Doña Cristina, and Infante Don Felipe

Betsy enjoyed the friendship and patronage of well-known art and society figures. One of her most acclaimed exhibitions was held in 1974, at the Spanish Institute in New York, and counted among her guests were the likes of former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, Antonio Garrigues, George Moore, and her father, former General Carlos Westendorp.

Betsy with former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis during the opening of Betsy’s 1974 exhibition

But the interesting thing about Betsy’s art is that one would never guess at these peerless connections and relationships just from viewing her work. In her canvas paintings, there is no trace of the hustle and bustle of the high society she frequently mingled with and, in that way, Betsy’s paintings provide viewers with a brief recess from the noise of everyday life. In her paintings – whether it be the portraits of her family and friends, her floral still lifes, or her cloud paintings – the frills of expectations and preconceived notions are removed and the subjects are portrayed simply as they are in that moment.

‘503’ 1991, oil on canvas, 18 x 14 1/2 in

This has never been more apparent than in the ongoing Salcedo Private View exhibition entitled ‘Intimacies’ which shifts the focus away from Betsy’s portraits and mural-sized works by featuring 16 floral landscape paintings in oil, mostly in small-scale – a rarity among the artist’s body of work. They were created from the 1970s up to the present – a range that spans 49 years of her artistic career. Westendorp presents for the first time these choice floral works from her personal collection, ranging from impressionistic painting sketches to her celebrated orchids.

‘714’ 1989, oil on canvas, 31 x 22 1/2 in

During the virtual vernissage of the exhibition held last July 4, Salcedo Auctions Chairman and Chief Specialist Richie Lerma hinged his discussion of Betsy’s exhibited works on her statement, “I draw as I paint.”

“It is the unfettered quality of the works that lends the sense of intimacy between the artist and the viewer. The exhibition is a conscious shift away from the large mural works that Westendorp is known for towards the quiet naturalness of these charming compositions.” said Lerma. In that sense, ‘Intimacies’ does not only present the rare, small-scale works of Westendorp, but it also highlights her technique as an artist. These paintings show a certain freshness and naturalness in her approach and the authenticity of her expression. “This is Betsy at her most natural and sincere.”

‘1383’ 2019, oil on masonite, 9 1/2 x 13 in

Lerma continued his discussion by further explaining how Betsy’s floral landscapes form part of an art historical tradition that dates back centuries to Flemish floral paintings, perhaps a nod to her Dutch heritage. “At the root of these still life works is a commentary on the transitory nature of life. They are tangible proof of how things that will eventually decay and disappear can be made everlasting through painting.” he shared.

‘Intimacies’ ran earlier this year. Now, Betsy Westendorp debuts her Limited Edition Giclée on Canvas Collection exclusively with Salcedo Private View. The collection will be available to the public from 28 November 2020 to 31 January 2020. You may now view her online catalogue and virtual gallery on our website,