Amorsolo was born in May 30, 1892 in Paco, Manila. Don Fabián de la Rosa, his mother's cousin was also a Filipino painter. At the age of 13, Amorsolo became an apprentice to De la Rosa, who would eventually become the advocate and guide to Amorsolo's painting career. During this time, Amorsolo's mother embroidered to earn money, while Amorsolo helped by selling water color postcards to a local bookstore for ten centavos each. Amorsolo's brother, Pablo Amorsolo, was also a painter. Amorsolo's first success as a young painter came in 1908, when his painting Leyendo el periódico took second place at the Bazar Escolta, a contest organized by the Asociacion Internacional de Artistas. Between 1909 and 1914, Amorsolo enrolled at the Art School of the Liceo de Manila.
After graduating from the Liceo, he entered the University of the Philippines' School of Fine Arts, where De la Rosa worked at the time. During college, Fernando Amorsolo's primary influences were the Spanish people court painter Diego Velázquez, John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, but mostly his contemporary Spanish masters Joaquín Sorolla Bastida and Ignacio Zuloaga. Amorsolo's most notable wora student at the Liceo was his painting of a young man and a young woman in a garden, which won him the first prize in the art school exhibition during his graduation year.To make money during school, Amorsolo joined competitions and did illustrations for various Philippine publications, including Severino Reyes’ first novel in Tagalog language, Parusa ng Diyos ("Punishment of God"), Iñigo Ed. Regalado's Madaling Araw ("Dawn"), as well as illustrations for editions of the Pasion. Amorsolo graduated with medals from the University of the Philippines in 1914.
After graduating from the Univeajor influences on his work.
Amorsolo set up his own studio upon his return to Manila and painted prodigiously during the 1920s and the 1930s. His Rice Planting (1922), which appeared on posters and tourist brochures, became one of the most popular images of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Beginning in the 1930s, Amorsolo's work was exhibited widely both in the Philippines and abroad. His bright,optimistic, pastoral images set the tone for Philippine painting before World War II . Except for his darker World War II-era paintings, Amorsolo painted quiet and peaceful scenes throughout his career.
Amorsolo was sought after by influential Filipinos including Luis Araneta, Antonio Araneta and Jorge B. Vargas. Amorsolo also became the favourite Philippine artist of United States officials and visitors to the country. Due to his popularity, Amorsolo had to resort to photographing his works and pasted and mounted them in an album. Prospective patrons could then choose from this catalog of his works. Amorsolo did not create exact replicas of his trademark themes; he recreated the paintings by varying some elements.
His works later appeared on the cover and pages of children textbooks, in novels, in commercial designs, in cartoons and illustrations for the Philippine publications such The Independent, Philippine Magazine, Telembang, El Renacimiento Filipino, and Excelsior. He was the director of the University of the Philippine's College of Fine Arts from 1938 to 1952.
During the 1950s until his death in 1972, Amorsolo averaged to finishing 10 paintings a month. However, during his later years, diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, headaches, dizziness and the death of two sons affected the execution of his works. Amorsolo underwent a cataract operation when he was 70 years old, a surgery that did not impede him from drawing and painting.
Amorsolo was a close friend of the Philippine sculptor Guillermo Tolentino, the creator of the Caloocan City monument to the patriot Andrés Bonifacio.
Amorsolo is best known for his illuminated landscapes, which often portrayed traditional Filipino customs, culture, fiestas and occupations. His pastoral works presented "an imagined sense of nationhood in counterpoint to American colonial rule" and were important to the formation of Filipino national identity. He was educated in the classical tradition and aimed "to achieve his Philippine version of the Greek ideal for the human form." In his paintings of Filipina women, Amorsolo rejected Western ideals of beauty in favor of Filipino ideals and was fond of basing the faces of his subjects on members of his family.
"[The women I paint should have] a rounded face, not of the oval type often presented to us in newspapers and magazine illustrations. The eyes should be exceptionally lively, not the dreamy, sleepy type that characterizes the Mongolian. The nose should be of the blunt form but firm and strongly marked. ... So the ideal Filipina beauty should not necessarily be white complexioned, nor of the dark brown color of the typical Malayan, but of the clear skin or fresh colored type which we often witness when we met a blushing girl."
Amorsolo used natural light in his paintings and developed the backlighting technique Chiaroscuro, which became his artistic trademark and his greatest contribution to Philippine painting. In a typical Amorsolo painting, figures are outlined against a characteristic glow, and intense light on one part of the canvas highlights nearby details. Philippine sunlight was a constant feature of Amorsolo's work; he is believed to have painted only one rainy-day scene.
Amorsolo was an incessant sketch artist, often drawing sketches at his home, at Luneta Park, and in the countryside. He drew the people he saw around him, from farmers to city-dwellers coping with the Japanese occupation. Amorsolo's impressionistic tendencies, which may be seen in his paintings as well, were at their height in his sketches. His figures were not completely finished but were mere "suggestions" of the image.
Amorsolo also painted a series of historical paintings on pre-Colonial and Spanish Colonization events. Amorsolo's Making of the Philippine Flag, in particular, was widely reproduced.His The First Baptism in the Philippines required numerous detailed sketches and colored studies of its elements. These diverse elements were meticulously and carefully set by the artist before being transferred to the final canvas. For his pre-colonial and 16th-century depiction of the Philippines, Amorsolo referred to the written accounts of Antonio Pigafetta, other available reading materials, and visual sources He consulted with the Philippine scholars of the time, H. Pardo de Tavera and Epifanio de los Santos.
Amorsolo also painted oil portraits of Presidents like General Emilio Aguinaldo, and other prominent individuals such as Don Alfredo Jacób and Doña Pura Garchitorena Toral of Camarines Sur. He also painted the wedding picture of Don Mariano Garchitorena and Doña Caridad Pamintuan of Pampanga.
He also did a portrait of American Senator Warren Grant Magnuson (1905–1989), of the Democratic Party from Washington, whom the Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Building at the University of Washington, and the Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland are named after.
After the onset of World War II, Amorsolo's typical pastoral scenes were replaced by the depictions of a war-torn nation. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II, Amorsolo spent his days at his home near the Japanese garrison, where he sketched war scenes from the house's windows or rooftop.
During the war, he documented the destruction of many landmarks in Manila and the pain, tragedy and death experienced by Filipino people, with his subjects including "women mourning their dead husbands, files of people with pushcarts and makeshift bags leaving a dark burning city tinged with red from fire and blood." Amorsolo frequently portrayed the lives and suffering of Filipina women during World War II. Other World War II-era paintings by Amorsolo include a portrait in absentia of General Douglas MacArthur as well as self-portraits and paintings of Japanese occupation soldiers. In 1948, Amorsolo's wartime paintings were exhibited at the Malacañang Presidential Palace.
Amorsolo's supporters consider his portrayals of the countryside as "the true reflections of the Filipino Soul."
Amorsolo has been accused, however, of succumbing to commercialism and merely producing souvenir paintings for American soldiers. Critic Francisco Arcellana wrote in 1948 that Amorsolo's paintings "have nothing to say" and that they were not hard to understand because "there is nothing to understand." Critics have criticized Amorsolo's portraits of Philippine Commonwealth personalities, his large, mid-career anecdotal works, and his large historical paintings. Of the latter, critics have said that his "artistic temperament was simply not suited to generating the sense of dramatic tension necessary for such works."
Another critic, however, while noting that most of Amorsolo's estimated ten thousand works were not worthy of his talent, argues that Amorsolo's oeuvre should nonetheless judged by his best works instead of his worst. Amorsolo's small landscapes, especially those of his early career, have been judged as his best works, "hold[ing] well together plastic-ally." Amorsolo may "be considered a master of the Philippine landscape as landscape, even outranking Luna and Hidalgo who also did some Philippine landscapes of the same measurements."
After being confined at the St. Luke's Hospital in Quezon City for two months, Amorsolo died of heart failure at the age of 79 on April 24, 1972.
Four days after his death, Amorsolo was honoured as the first National Artist in Painting at the Cultural Center of the Philippines by then President Ferdinand Marcos.
The volume of paintings, sketches and studies of Amorsolo is believed to have reached more than 10,000 pieces. Amorsolo was an important influence on contemporary Filipino art and artists, even beyond the so-called "Amorsolo school." Amorsolo's influence can be seen in many landscape paintings by Filipino artists, including early landscape paintings by abstract painter Federico Aguilar Alcuaz.
In 2003, Amorsolo's children founded the Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving Fernando Amorsolo's legacy, promoting his style and vision, and preserving a national heritage through the conservation and promotion of his works.
During the post-war period, Insular Life commissioned Amorsolo to create a series of paintings of historical events for their offices (and which were subsequently used in Insular Life calendars from '50s to '80s). .
At a 2001 auction in Wellesley, Massachusetts, two original 1950s paintings by Amorsolo, The Cockfight and Resting Under the Trees, were bought by a New Jersey collector for $36,000 and $31,500, respectively. During a 2002 episode of Antiques Roadshow, a Sotheby's antiques appraiser estimated that an attendee's signed 1945 rural landscape painting by Amorsolo could fetch between $30,000 and $50,000 at auction. At a 1996 Christie's auction, Amorsolo's The Marketplace went for $174,000. In April 2002, Portrait of Fernanda De Jesus was bought for US$377,947.
On November 30, 2009, the Family Gathering Fruit sold for USD 77,257 at Christie's. In December 2009, Fruit Gatherer was auctioned off in Maryland, in record-breaking manner, topping 19th and 20th century European and American paintings. In May 2010, the highest priced Amorsolo painting was auctioned off at Christie's for about US$440,000.
The Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center in Manila displays a major collection of Amorsolo's work.
Major works by Amorsolo include:1908 – 2nd Prize, Bazar Escolta tea and taki
(Asocacion Internacional de Artistas), for Levendo Periodico1922 – 1st Prize, Commercial and Industrial Fair in the Manila Carnival
1929 – 1st Prize, New York's World Fair, for Afternoon Meal of Rice Workers (also known as Noonday Meal of the Rice Workers)
1940 – Outstanding University of the Philippines Alumnus Award
1959 – Gold Medal, UNESCO National Commission
1961 – Rizal Pro Patria Award
1961 – Honorary Doctorate in the Humanities, from the Far Eastern University
1963 – Diploma of Merit from the University of the Philippines
1963 – Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award, from the City of Manila
1963 – Republic Cultural Heritage Award
1972 – Gawad CCP para sa Sining, from the Cultural Center of the Philippines
In 1972, Fernando Amorsolo became the first Filipino to be distinguished as the Philippine's National Artist in Painting. He was named as the "Grand Old Man of Philippine Art" during the inauguration of the Manila Hilton's art center, where his paintings were exhibited on January 23, 1969.
Outside the Philippines, his exhibitions were held in Belgium, at the Exposicion de Panama in 1914, at a one-man show at the Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City in 1925, and at the National Museum in Herran on November 6, 1948. During the 1931 Paris Exposition, Amorsolo exhibited one of his anecdotal paintings, The Conversion of the Filipinos. Amorsolo's entries at the Exposicion in Panama were a portrait of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and the piece La Muerte de Socrates. At the 1948 National Museum in Herran, Amorsolo exhibition was sponsored by the Art Association of the Philippines. In 1950, Amorsolo exhibited two more historical paintings, Faith Among the Ruins and Baptism of Rajah Humabon at ssthe Missionary Art Exhibit in Rome. In 1979, Fernando Amorsolo's legacy as a painter was celebrated through an exhibition of his works at the Art Center of the Manila Hilton. His art was also featured in a 2007 exhibition in Havana.
During his lifetime, Amorsolo was married twice and had 20 children. In 1916, he married Salud Tolentino Jorge, with whom he had six children. Amorsolo’s first wife died in 1931 leaving him with six children. He had six more children by a common-law wife, named Virginia Guevarra Santos. Amorsolo have three children with her namely Manuel (followed in his father's footstep, with a degree in Fine Arts from the University of the Philippines), Jorge and Norma when he met his second wife. Subsequently, Virginia found an engagement ring in one of Amorsolo's drawers; she knew about Maria, that prompted her to leave his house with her three children. In 1935, he married Maria del Carmen who gave him eight more children. Among her daughters are Sylvia Amorsolo-Lazo and Luz. But as Maria was giving birth with his children, Virginia had three more children with Amorsolo. Fortunately, his reputation was growing as fast as his brood and his work was more than enough to provide for his rather large family. Six of Amorsolo's children became artists themselves.