La Mujer Filipina by Felix Hidalgo

Some doubts have been casts on the authenticity of a Felix Hidalgo painting which was sold by auction recently.

FÉLIX RESURRECCIÓN HIDALGO Y PADILLA (Filipinas, 1855 – España, 1913).
“Nativa Filipina”.
Óleo sobre lienzo.

The most common misgivings are that the painting did not seem to conform to the fashion style of the period when Felix Hidalgo was living, that the painting did not seem to be Filipina, and that the painting is not painted in the style that Hidalgo is known for which is slightly impressionistic.

While the authenticity of the painting is debatable, it would be interesting to speculate on the possibility of Hidalgo painting such a picture. Upon further comparison and closer inspection, one would find out that the style is consistent with his Manila Academy period paintings done before 1879, before he left for further studies in Spain. One can check the paintings posted online and it would be easy to observe that there are two versions of this painting, this one and the other with a lighter tone. Its possible that Felix Hidalgo, painted the same subject twice, once when he was in Manila and the other when he was in Paris shortly after. Artists often revisit former subjects and styles throughout their careers. A portrait without headgear and some décolletage would be daring at any point in Hidalgo’s career and this is probably the point of the painting: an erotic picture, or it could just be about the string of pearls.  Hidalgo started his career as an illustrator and the pearls could be the real subject of this painting. The golden colored pearls give her away, as these have been sourced then and now, in the Philippines. This is definitely a portrait of a Filipina, at least that’s the intention. cf. El Pescador de Sacag painted in 1875 in Manila but is now in the Prado Museum Collection. Hidalgo did not always paint in the impressionist style that he is known for today.

Decolletage was common in Pre-Victorian fashion, also off-shoulder dresses were worn in portraits done by Raden Saleh (cf. Portrait of a lady in Java). Victorian fashion covered the woman’s body, so this picture might be of a woman wearing a dress that has been out of fashion or the painting is a “throwback”. That or this is a pleated undergarment. Filipinas were hardly in-step with fashion trends in Europe, it is after all a portrait of a “Mujer Filipina” and didn’t wear corsets (consistent with this painting) as noted by a Dutch traveller to the Philippines in the 1880s. Fashion styles vary from places and times, but French paintings definitely showed cleavage during this period. I wouldn’t be shocked of bare breasts or a Filipina wearing an outdated European style of clothing. The skintone and her look may appear severe to some but this could be the result of limitations in pigment available at that time. Consistent with other paintings Hidalgo painted before 1879 and the fact that the painting is owned by a Governor General who was assigned in Manila, I am lead to believe that the painting could be a copy painted in his Paris studio of a previous painting , hence the peculiar signature. It is not surprising to have exemptions to a particular style for a particular period in an artistic career. A “remix”, painted for another collector who wanted the same painting.



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