Arts & Leisure

By Jasmine Agnes T. Cruz, Reporter

Manila gets view of early figurative Zobels in pre-auction show

Posted on January 21, 2015

SPANISH-FILIPINO painter Fernando Zobel impressed many with his abstract creations, but he had a different figurative side which is now on view in an exhibit held in conjunction with an auction.

GREEN WINDOW with a Trumpet by Fernando Zobel, 1953, oil on wood, 48 x 24 inches
Leon Gallery is offering some early-period figurative Zobels and several other artworks in a sale called The Jim and Reed Pfeufer Collection: A Four-Decade Friendship with Fernando Zobel. Jim Pfeufer, a printmaker who taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, and Reed Pfeufer, a painter who was featured at group exhibitions at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, were American friends of Mr. Zobel when he was a student at Harvard.

It was the couple’s son, Eric, now 72, who discovered the collection. Totaling 70 pieces, the collection includes a few oil paintings, the rest are sketches, watercolor pieces, and prints. The figurative paintings mostly depict the Pfeufers. One is a portrait of Joachim (the eldest son), another shows Joachim’s trumpet near a window of the Pfeufer’s home. There is a portrait of Eric, and a portrait of Jim holding his clarinet.

The collection includes Nothing III (Seated Man), an early Zobel exhibited in the country in 1953 and at a 1954 show at Boston’s Swetzoff Gallery, said a press release from Leon.

Several sketches and one painting are saetas -- Zobel’s abstract series focusing on movement which he named for the Spanish word for “dart.” It was while staying in the Pfeufer house in Providence, Rhode Island -- where he was studying at the Rhode Island School of Design -- that Mr. Zobel saw a Mark Rothko show, an inspiration for his saetas, said Eric Pfeufer.

Also to be auctioned are two limited edition books on Mr. Zobel (there are only 15 copies of one of the books, and 1,000 of the other).

The collection is on view at Leon Gallery, Corinthian Plaza, Paseo de Roxas, Makati City. The auction will be held on Feb. 6, 7 p.m., at the Makati Diamond Residences.

Although not for sale, the 500 letters that Mr. Zobel wrote to the Pfeufers are also in the custody of Leon Gallery. Some will be included in the auction’s catalog. The letters have references to the artworks, said Jaime de Leon, the gallery’s owner, in a press conference on Jan. 14. He added that: “Every piece has a certificate of authenticity from Rafael Madero,” who is in charge of Mr. Zobel’s estate in Spain.

Mr. Pfeufer has fond memories of Mr. Zobel, whom he met when he was around six years old. “He was very formal, and he even bowed,” he told BusinessWorld on Jan. 18. When Mr. Pfeufer was in college, he decided to take a year off, and for three months he lived in Mr. Zobel’s house in Spain, and Mr. Zobel took him to see bullfights and flamenco dances.

“He was a very lively man,” said Mr. Pfeufer.

The artworks were rediscovered four years ago, when Mr. Pfeufer got a phone call from Mr. Madero’s assistant, who asked him if they could come to his house to look for some of Mr. Zobel’s paintings. They were looking in particular for a portrait of Joachim, a painting of a window with a trumpet, the saeta, and Nothing III (Seated Man). During that visit, Mr. Madero found the works and told Mr. Pfeufer that he wanted to buy them.

“It was so quick I didn’t know what to do,” said Mr. Pfeufer.

He spoke to an art writer John Seed, who then sent him a link to a Christie’s auction of Zobel pieces. This opened his eyes to what the prices these paintings could achieve. “I had no idea that they were that valuable,” Mr. Pfeufer said.

Then, six months ago, he checked the large flat files in steel drawers that were owned by his parents. Inside, he found a jumbled array of artworks from different artists his parents knew. From the mess, he began picking out the works by Mr. Zobel, which he said he recognized or were signed.

It was Shelly Geringer, an American art dealer based in Hawaii who was recommended to Eric by Mr. Seed, who put him in touch with Leon Gallery. Mr. Geringer said he met Mr. De Leon in Hawaii getting a phone call to set up an initial meeting. From there, they have had several dealings, and Mr. Geringer said he was “very impressed” with the Filipino art dealer.

Mr. Geringer said he also has “a loose association with Zobel family.” It started in 1991 when he went to an auction featuring the estate of Consuelo Zobel Alger, the sister of Fernando Zobel. There he bought a portrait of Consuelo by Cesar Amorsolo (a nephew of National Artist Fernando Amorsolo). When he found out that the Zobel family in Hawaii was not happy about the sale, he donated the painting back. Later, when Consuelo’s estate in Maine was being sold, the Zobel family told him about it, and Mr. Geringer bought a Fabian dela Rosa painting there. He sold it in Manila, and that’s how he became an art dealer here.

“I think I’ve come full circle,” he said.

Leon Gallery was packed during the collection’s exhibit opening on Jan. 19. Though this writer did not spot members of the Zobel family while she was there, in attendance were National Artists Benedicto “BenCab” Cabrera with Annie Sarthou, National Artist Arturo Luz with his wife Tessie Ojeda Luz, art collectors Paulino and Hetty Que, art collector and Art Fair Philippines organizer Trickie Lopa, Galleria Duemila owner Silvana Diaz, and many others. In the middle of it all, Eric Pfeufer, face red with joy and a shiny sentimentality in his eyes, said that some part of him felt sad to see the artworks go.

“But I can’t do anything for them except put them back in the drawer,” he said, comforted that at least, he gets to share these pieces with other people.

For more information on the exhibit and auction, call (+632) 856-2781 or e-mail