Fernando Zóbel de Ayala Montojo’s Perales de Tajuña

Perales de Tajuña is named after a small town outside of Madrid, but our experience with it has been a little more worldly than that. Traveling to the West Coast to securely and safely transport it back to our Holland studio; where, after a conservation layover, it headed for it’s penultimate stop, the Philippines, where a lucky individual was able to win it at auction–this artwork is well-traveled.

The painting suffered from dirt particulates across the surface, mold on the reverse, and and on the front a few surface contaminates. Due to the pure and minimalist style of Perales de Tajuña, as well as its mediums and execution, syringe and brushed black against gessoed linen, it was very important for restoration efforts to “stay in its lane,” so to speak. As part of his Serie Negra (The Black Series), Fernando Zóbel (1924 – 1984) captures a wonderful quality in this painting: a type of expressive and fluid binary, that at the same time seems so simple and yet so evocative and mesmerizing. That was one of the wonderful surprises of this job; Zóbel was oddly not an artist we were familiar with, but upon seeing his work it was such a great reminder of how inspiring art can be, and of how refreshing and ingenious Zóbel was in combining the Asian pen and ink style with a Zen Buddhist ethos, and while restricting himself to black and white, somehow managing to infuse it with so much warmth and liveliness.

At the same time as restoration, we reached out to Southeast Asian auction houses, where the Zóbel market is the strongest, and fielded offers and negotiated terms before finally presenting the best offers to our clients, who then decided which one to pick. Arrangements were made to ship the painting out of New York City, and we built a custom crate and rented a van and delivered it in person to the handlers. We also prepared an appraisal for the artwork, as it was necessary for insurance purposes.

We are happy to report that this wonderful artwork sold, and exceeded its high estimate.

Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo (1924-1984) was a Filipino painter of Basque, Spanish, Danish and German descent. He was a member of the Zóbel de Ayala family, a prominent business family with vast holdings of land and assets including the prominent Ayala Corporation in the Philippines. He is remembered for his mastery of both the real and abstract, and for his friendliness and generosity.

Zóbel was born in Ermita, the civic center of Manila, Philippines. He received his first artistic training from Fernando Cueto Amorsolo, a Filipino artist who was a recipient of Zóbel’s family’s support. Immediately after beginning a medical degree at the University of Santo Tomas in 1942, he began to suffer from a spinal condition that caused him to be bedridden. He taught himself sketching to pass the time while he recovered from his condition. Although he eventually recovered fully, he never gave up his passion for sketching, even while completing a degree in history and literature at Harvard University.

While in Boston, he encountered artists such as Hyman Bloom, Reed Champion, and James Pfeufer; he used this time in Boston to expand his artistic horizons, dabbling in a variety of techniques. In 1954, he began studying at the Rhode Island School of Design and encountered works by the abstract painter Mark Rothko; this encounter led to a vast change towards the abstract in Zóbel’s work. He painted the Saetas, a series of abstract paintings in which he used a hypodermic syringe to create extremely thin lines of color on the canvas; these paintings are perhaps Zóbel’s most famous.

Returning to the Philippines in the late 1950s to help run the family business, Zóbel never abandoned his love for art. In 1962, he held his first one-man show in Manila. Never a businessman at heart, he was most jovial when painting, a mood that is reflected in his art. He became known in the Philippines for his generosity and welcoming nature, always available for a friendly chat. When he moved to Cuenca, Spain in the 1960s, he continued his open door policy at his studio, welcoming many new friends into his life. Inspired by his generosity, his family opened the Ayala Museum in Makati City, Philippines, to showcase both Zóbel’s artwork and his vast personal collection; today, the museum dedicates itself to showing the talents of Filipino artists past and present.

Zóbel passed away from a heart attack while visiting Rome in 1984. Immediately after, the city of Cuenca posthumously awarded Zóbel a Gold Medal. He also received the Presidential Medal of Merit in 2006.


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