Fernando Zóbel

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Portrait of Fernando Zóbel, from the catalogue of the Zobel exhibition at Sala Neblí in Madrid, 1961.

Described as a transnational artist, Spanish-Filipino painter Fernando Zóbel (1924-1984) thrived in three cities in diverse continents. He witnessed and was influenced by major art movements as they were occurring in the Philippines, the United States and Spain—the beginnings of modern art in the work of Filipino artists, the rise of Abstract Expressionism in New York, and the growth of abstract painting in Spain.

In Manila where he was born, Zóbel was one of the key figures in the introduction and education of modern art, especially in non-objectivism in the 1950s. Even when it was not in vogue, he collected the works of young Filipino modernists such as Vicente Manansala, HR Ocampo, and Arturo Luz, who are all now recognized as National Artists in the Visual Arts.

When he finally moved to Spain in 1960, he donated his collection to Ateneo de Manila University. This core collection formed the nucleus for the Ateneo Art Gallery, which is recognized as the first museum of Philippine modern art. In 1966, he founded the Museo del Arte Abstracto Español in Cuenca, Spain’s first museum of abstract art. In 1967, Ayala Museum, the museum he envisioned, was established in Makati City.

The Spanish Ministry of Culture awarded Zóbel with the Gold Medal for Merit in the Fine Arts in 1983; and, in 2006 the Philippine government paid homage with a posthumous Presidential Medal of Merit. With these honors, both countries celebrate and recognize the contributions and legacy of Fernando Zobel to generations of Filipino and Spanish artists.