FABULOUS ‘50s, what a grand time it was. ‘Twas nitty-gritty rebuilding time for the nation from the rubble and ruins left in the wake of World War II. Remember? Two pesos equals a dollar. Minimum pay was P8 a day and that amount can sustain a family of six.
Then, a decent-sized oil painting by a Vicente Manansala, a Hernando R. Ocampo, a Cesar Legaspi, even that movie set designer qua gadabout poet of the brush Carlos “Botong” Francisco fetched for P5—what lush opulence such works in oil and canvas would lend to a drab wall!
A pesky urban legend of sorts from the ‘50s refused to fade away in certain local art circles. It’s about Botong Francisco. In a fit of generosity and just maybe all he had on his person was a rolled-up mural-size canvas on which the typical Botong pastorale had been painted, he gave that away in exchange for a meal. Even then, that artwork was worth more than a few lavish dinners— thrown in with a few magnums of Armagnac, hand-rolled and brandy-dipped Havanas, and a string quartet to serenade the beloved in post-prandial chit-chat.
Today, P10 million would be a piker’s bid and an out-and-out obscene proposal for possession of a Botong Francisco mural.
In appreciation for being in possession of a work of genius, the artwork owner saw it fit to use the Francisco canvas as make-shift awning for his-- or it could be her—eatery. Mildew, dry rot, motley insects, inclement weather, time and all had their merry way with a work of art until it was reduced to tatters.
What a waste…
Another urban legend is in the works but this one hews closer to the factual. An interaction mural painting was made sometime in the 1950s by the late National Artist Vicente “Enteng” Manansala plus National Artist Ang Kiukok, Mauro Malang Santos, Cris Cruz, Edgar Doctor, Ephraim Samson, Gig de Pio and two or three other heavyweights in local artville.
Bet your balls plus your in-laws, an intact mural like that can easily fetch over P10 million in any Sotheby’s or Christie’s auction.
Not unlike that eatery owner of the urban legend on Botong, the current owners of the mural have seen it fit to allow termites, dry rot, fungal growth and wee vermin to take their liberties on a priceless national treasure. The mural is about to be reduced to shreds, flakes and tatters.
Drop by anytime at the National Press Club building at the foot of Jones Bridge, a stone’s throw off Colegio de San Juan de Letran and the National Post Office building. The mural’s there.
Go, see it and weep!