Arts & Leisure

By Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz, Reporter

The Vargas Museum permanent collection: Amorsolos and more

Posted on January 28, 2015

UNKNOWN TO MANY, the Jorge B. Vargas Museum in the University of the Philippines (UP), Diliman has more paintings by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo in its permanent collection than any other museum in the Philippines.

FROM the Vargas Museum Collection: Picnic in Normandy by Juan Luna, an undated oil on canvas, 86.7 cm x 128.2 cm; Primeras Letras (Learning to Read) by Simon Flores, 1890, oil on canvas board, 84.5 cm x 59.3 cm; and Bahay Pari by Fernando Amorsolo, 1931, oil on canvas board, 31.5 cm x 49.3 cm
It also has works by Juan Luna, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, and Victorio Edades -- the collection’s artistic styles span the realism of the European salon to post-impressionism, the school of Paris, art nouveau, and art deco.

This is thanks to Jorge B. Vargas, the Philippines’ first Executive Secretary (under President Manuel Quezon), who was also Chairman of the Philippine Executive Commission and Mayor of Manila during Japanese occupation. As he was a UP graduate -- he took Liberal Arts and Law -- he donated his collection to the university on March 1, 1978. The collection was originally located in a museum at the Kawilihan compound in Mandaluyong City and it was transferred to the Diliman campus in 1986.

It is the diversity of materials that sets the Vargas collection apart from other museums, said museum curator Patrick Flores, Ph.D. The collection isn’t just made up of art like paintings, sculptures, and prints, but it also includes stamps, coins, books, periodicals, personal papers, and memorabilia.

The Vargas collection is also strong in art from the early modern and Japanese periods. “Not a lot of people collect them,” said Mr. Flores told BusinessWorld on Dec. 11, explaining that only Spanish-Filipino painter and collector Fernando Zobel and Mr. Vargas collected early modern artworks and it was only Vargas who collected Japanese period art.

If one compares Vargas’s collection with that of Mr. Zobel (which one can see at the Ateneo Art Gallery), Mr. Flores said that the Zobel collection is that of a “connoisseur,” while Mr. Vargas’s collected according to his taste -- and that is why one can see many paintings of flowers, landscapes, and Mabini art in the Vargas collection.

“He wasn’t really an art person,” said Mr. Flores. “He bought what he liked and what he could afford.”

Mr. Flores said he suspects that many of the artworks were gifts because Mr. Vargas was an official in the Japanese period. Mr. Vargas also often judged art competitions and received invitations from artists to attend their exhibit openings, and this might have been another reason why he given artworks as gifts, said Mr. Flores. Aside from gifts, Mr. Vargas also collected on his own, and this combination of sources is what grew his collection.

The star pieces of the collection are Primeras Letras (Learning to Read) by Simon Flores, Picnic in Normandy by Juan Luna, and Bulul at Babae by Victorio Edades. Mr. Flores said that Primeras Letras is an example of the transition from 19th century portraiture to the Amorsolo school, Picnic in Normandy is a large Luna as it is 86.7 centimeters by 128.2 centimeters and it was made when Mr. Luna was in Paris, and Bulul at Babae included an element of the ethnic.

So how many Amorsolos does the Vargas Museum have? Fifty-six, but only 21 are on exhibit. The rest are in storage, which researchers can gain access to upon request.

The museum is located at Roxas Ave., UP Campus, Diliman, Quezon City. For more information, call the museum at 928-1927 (direct line), 981-8500 loc. 4024 (UP trunkline), or send an e-mail to One may also visit its Web site at or like them at and follow them @UPVargasMuseum for updates.