Salcedo Stories

Passion and Persistence: The Enduring Legacy of Cesar Legaspi

Passion and Persistence: The Enduring Legacy of Cesar Legaspi

  • 16 September 2020

Descent is not just a brilliant masterpiece in and of itself, but it is also a testament to Cesar Legaspi’s tenacity and resolve to overcome his personal limitations for the love of his art.

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CESAR LEGASPI, Descent, 1980, Oil on canvas

National Artist Cesar Legaspi was colorblind; he saw colors such as green and red only in varying shades of grey and brown. This explains the dark and somber color palette associated with his earlier work.

Legaspi was determined to break through his limitations. To work through this, he would first create practice sketches in charcoal, pencil, or pen. These sketches were also called “bozzettos,” according to his son, Dennis Legaspi. These bozzettos were executed in such breathtaking detail that they could have easily been mistaken as the final artwork rather than an artist’s simple study. Afterwards, he would systematically arrange the multitude of colors he’d need on his glass palette, then create the layers and highlights on his canvas instinctively. “My father saw colors with his mind,” his son explained.

An early bozzetto of ‘Descent’

For many, it would be a daunting feat to create art without being able to perceive certain colors. Still, Legaspi endured and prevailed. In fact, a closer look at Descent will reveal that the very colors he used in the piece were those that he could not see. His application of red and green is almost prismatic, adding a layered element to the artwork. Despite the dramatic scene, Legaspi’s technique is subtle– his gradients transition smoothly across the surface while the linear grids, though sharp, are unimposing in their presence.

For years, Cesar Legaspi had a day job where he created commercial art to support his family. He was no doubt a loving and dedicated family man. Later on, when he finally left his job and focused on painting full-time, he took on one of his greatest challenges as a visual artist.

CESAR LEGASPI, Untitled, 1993, Oil on canvas. A prime example of one of the National Artist’s later paintings.

Legaspi delved deeper into the entire spectrum of colors that he could not see– and in doing so, managed to create brilliant multi-colored works of art.

A photo of ‘Descent’ on display at the Legaspi family home

Now, the family is sharing a tangible piece of their father’s colorful legacy in the form of one of his most powerful and moving paintings, re-introducing us to the man behind the canvas.

Cesar Legaspi’s Descent is being offered as part of the ‘Important Philippine Art’ category of ‘The Well-Appointed Life’ Auction. To view the entire catalogue, click here.