Spanish artist Betsy Westendorp, who made a name in the Philippines for her portraits and her atmosferografias, passed away on Nov. 23 in her home in Aravaca, Madrid. She was 94 years old.
Born on Feb. 22, 1927, and raised in Spain, Ms. Westendorp was named after a Dutch aunt who was also an artist. She first arrived in Manila when she was 21 years old, after her marriage to Filipino businessman Antonio Brias. They were blessed with three daughters.
In 1971, then-Philippine ambassador to Spain Luis “Chito” González invited her to an exhibition at the Instituto de Cultura Hispanica in Madrid. The ambassador’s wife, Vicky Quirino-Gonzalez introduced her to Spanish royals who then posed for portraits. Among her high-society portraits include those of now-King Felipe VI and his sisters as children.
Among her accolades are the Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabela Catolica (Order of Isabella the Catholic) and the Presidential Medal of Merit for Art and Culture.
Aside from portraits, Ms. Westendorp painted large-scale canvases of flora, skies, and landscapes.
In 2020, Instituto Cervantes de Manila produced an 18-minute documentary that featured an interview with the artist.
In 2018, a self-titled two-volume coffee table book about the artist’s life and work was published in time for her 90th birthday.
During the launch of the coffee table book, Ms. Westendorp shared to this writer that her favorite painting was that of her grandson Ian and daughter Isabel (Portrait of Isabel with Ian). “I had a picture taken of him and my daughter by a window in my house in Madrid. They were sitting by the window … I painted it. I enjoyed so much painting his face,” Ms. Westendorp then recalled.
“If you know a person very well, it’s easy to paint,” she said.
In a 2017 interview with High Life, the defunct large-format lifestyle glossy published by BusinessWorld, Ms. Westendorp said: “You can endure many hardships in life if you have art. I paint and that’s my prayer. That’s the way I keep on going.”
With her passing, Metro Manila galleries that championed her work wrote tributes online.
“Westendorp opened our eyes to the beauty of Philippine flora, fauna, and landscapes through her glorious works of art. For more than half a century, Westendorp was moved by the allure and grace of our natural surroundings as her muse… León Gallery offers its condolences to family, friends, and all those moved by the works of Betsy Westendorp,” Leon Gallery wrote on social media.
“We mourn the passing of one of the country’s most beloved artists, Betsy Westendorp, and express our loving thanksgiving for her life and art,” Salcedo Auctions wrote on social media.
The Metropolitan Museum of Manila (now called The M), which mounted Ms. Westendorp’s retrospective in 2020, wrote: “The Metropolitan Museum of Manila is deeply saddened by the passing of Betsy Westendorp, a beloved Spanish artist who developed a lifelong relationship with the Philippines through her art.” — Michelle Anne P. Soliman