The beauty of Betsy Westendorp

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IT IS believed that we are a sum of our surroundings. Judging from portraits of her by other artists (including one by Fernando Amorsolo), Betsy Westendorp, one of the grandes dames of Philippine art, had been and continues to be a beautiful woman at the age of 93. She was surrounded by beautiful people and beautiful things, and in such a setting, nothing else but beauty is expected. The rarefied world that Ms. Westendorp lived in seemed to be a set path: to paint society portraits; then paint something beautiful; then see those hung on either the homes or the offices of the powerful she painted. Her works then serve as a salve, and an escape from this world, and an exercise in the purpose of beauty.

All this beauty will be on view in a retrospective exhibition calledPassages” at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, which runs from Jan. 29 to March 15.

Art, said the artist, is a balm for life. “Certainly I’d recommend everybody to paint, to do sculpture, do some art, because I think they can endure many hardships in life if you have that,” Ms. Westendorp told BusinessWorld’s High Life magazine in a video interview several years ago.**

Ms. Westendorp has multiple identities: she comes from another era, her maiden last name is Dutch (she was named after an aunt who was an artist); but she was born and raised in Spain, and then she was married to a Filipino businessman, Antonio Brias. As Emmanuel A. Miñana, head of the Betsy Westendorp Retrospective Committee, said in a statement, “It was love at first sight. They moved to Manila and raised their three children amidst newfound friendships.”

Ms. Westendorp is best known for her cloudscapes, her flowers, and her high-society portraits, including those of Spain’s Royal Family — she painted the now-King Felipe VI and his sisters as a child. For her various achievements, Ms. Westendorp earned the  Lazo de Dama de la Orden de Isabela Catolica (Order of Isabella the Catholic), as well as the Presidential Medal of Merit for Art and Culture.


Mr. Miñana emphasized Ms. Westendorp’s contribution to the body of Philippine art. “The object of her affection was her newly adopted home — its people, flora and fauna; effervescent and luminous skies and seascapes; and commonplace shanties and fishermen’s homes by Manila Bay. She focused her eyes, and ours, to the grandeur and beauty of a country she passionately painted. She took ordinary, taken-for-granted subjects and made them sublime. As advocate and patriot of her second home, Westendorp has contributed to the life and culture of Philippine art by generously lending her voluble voice and artistic vision unflinchingly to this country. This is her truest legacy.”

The retrospective, curated by Dannie Alvarez, will display over 100 works spanning more than 60 years of Ms. Westendorp’s career. In keeping with the current health guidelines, the retrospective will be presented in both real and virtual space. The museum will present a 3D virtual tour, a biographical film documentary, and interviews and tributes. A printed retrospective monograph with text by Cid Reyes will be produced in partnership with De La Salle University Publishing House. There will also be continuous education and public programs throughout the retrospective, including a fireside chat with the artist.

The exhibition has been organized by the Metropolitan Museum of the Philippines in partnership with Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), De La Salle University Publishing House, and Pioneer Insurance, together with the Retrospective’s executive committee headed by Mr. Miñana and its members gallerist Silvana Diaz, writer Cid Reyes, and photographer Denise Weldon-Miñana.

The retrospective is sponsored by the Alay ng Inang Maria Foundation, Ramon Antonio, Antonio and Maricris Brias, Rosemarie T. Delgado, Jay and Ana De Ocampo (of Wildflour), Raul and Joanna Francisco, Randy and Irene Francisco, Antonio and Linda Lagdameo, Jaime Ponce de Leon, Alfonso and Yolanda Reyno, Beatrice Roxas, Carlos and Isabelita Salinas, Rick and Bonnie Santos/Santos Knight Frank, Teresita Sy-Coson, Steve and Loli Sy/ (Focus Global, Inc.), Bienvenido Tantoco, Sr. (SSI Group, Inc.), Rico and Nena Tantoco (Sta. Elena Golf & Country Estate), Wilfred and Kerri Uytengsu, Randy and Pia Young, and Jaime and Bea Zobel de Ayala. — JLG