Fernando Zóbel de Ayala y Montojo

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Fernando M. Zobel de Ayala
Fernando Zobel de Ayala y Montojo Torrontegui in 1966.
Fernando Zóbel y Montojo

(1924-08-27)August 27, 1924
DiedJune 2, 1984(1984-06-02) (aged 59)
Rome, Italy
EducationHarvard University
Known forPainting
Abstract Expressionism

Fernando Zóbel y Montojo (August 27, 1924 – June 2, 1984), also known as Fernando M. Zóbel, was a Spanish Filipino painter, businessman, art collector and museum founder.

Early life[edit]

Zóbel was born in Ermita, Manila in the Philippines to Enrique Zóbel de Ayala (1877–1943) and Fermina Montojo y Torrontegui and was a member of the prominent Zóbel de Ayala family. He was a brother of Jacobo Zóbel (father of Enrique J. Zóbel), Alfonso (father of Jaime Zóbel de Ayala) and Mercedes Zóbel McMicking, all children of his father from his first wife, Consuelo Róxas de Ayala (who died in September 25, 1907 at the age of 30). He was a nephew and namesake of Fernando Antonio Zóbel de Ayala, the eldest brother of his father.

His father was a patron of Fernando Amorsolo. In gratitude, Amorsolo would teach the young Fernando on the rudiments of art.

Zóbel took up medical studies at the University of Santo Tomas in Manila. In 1942, he had spinal deficiency that forced him to become bedridden that year. To pass the time, he took up sketching. He studied at the University of Santo Tomas and then left for Harvard University in 1946 to take up degrees in history and literature. He graduated in three years and wrote a thesis on the Federico García Lorca play The Love of Don Perlimplín and Belisa in the Garden.

Boston-style works[edit]

Zóbel started painting without formal training while in Harvard. In the fall of 1946 he met Jim Pfeufer and his wife Reed Champion Pfeufer. Reed was a painter who was loosely connected with the Boston School, and she became a mentor to the young artist. Zóbel graduated in 1949 as magna cum laude. After finishing his bachelor's degree he briefly returned to Harvard to study law, and then worked as a curator at the Houghton Library. Zóbel's paintings from this era were representational, and often had an aspect of caricature.

Early work in Manila and the influence of Rothko[edit]

Zóbel returned to the Philippines and became friends with contemporary Filipino modernist artists. As such, he collected modernist works and set up exhibits for them to be shown and noticed since modernist art was largely unappreciated. His first one-man exhibition was held at the Philippine Art Gallery in 1953. In 1954, he left Manila for six months, had a show at the Swetzoff Gallery in Boston and enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design where he saw an exhibition by Mark Rothko. Rothko's paintings made an impression on Zobel that increased his interest in painting abstractly. When he returned to Manila, Zobel started in having interest in Chinese and Japanese art and took up calligraphy classes until 1960. During this time, he joined the faculty of the Ateneo de Manila University and later was given an honorary doctorate and was made honorary director of the Ateneo Art Gallery for his contribution in education and as patron of the arts. To make a name for himself as a full-time painter, he later resigned from his position in the Ayala Corporation and moved to Spain.

Saetas and Serie Negra series[edit]

Zóbel is best known for his first artwork series called the Saetas. Named after the liturgical song sung in Holy Week in Spain, they were developed for the most part in the Philippines. Zóbel faced the technical problem of how to achieve the lines that his theme required, lines that were, in his own words, "long, fine, and controlled." The artist's use of a surgical syringe to eject fine lines of paint was a hallmark of this series. After the Saetas, Zóbel began a series called Serie Negra or Series in Black influenced by Chinese Calligraphy. The Serie Negra was started in 1959 in Madrid and continued for four years.

Later life and death[edit]

He founded the Museo de Arte Abstracto Español at Casa Colgadas in the town of Cuenca, Spain in 1963. The museum was expanded in 1978, and in 1980 Zóbel donated its collection to the Fundación Juan March, which then incorporated it into its own collection.

Zóbel was a mentor and collector who aided the careers of Spanish modernist painters including Antonio Lorenzo, Eusebio Sempere, Martín Chirino López, Antonio Saura and many others. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Zóbel was working on a series of paintings called Dialogos that were his abstracted variations on paintings he admired in museums. He also made a series of paintings inspired by Cuenca's River Júcar. After suffering a stroke that left him slightly impaired, he created a series called "Las Orillas" that elaborated on the theme of rivers.

In 1983, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed upon Zóbel the Medalla de Oro al Mérito en las Bellas Artes.

Zóbel died of a heart attack in Rome, Italy on June 2, 1984.

In 2003, a retrospective traveling exhibit in honor of Zobel were held in Cuenca and Seville.[1] On May 21, 2006, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Merit by the Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for his contributions in the arts.[2] On May 24, 2008, Zobel's work titled Noche Clara was sold at Christie's in Hong Kong was sold for PHP 6,000,000, making it the most expensive Philippine artwork.[3]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Madrid museum pays tribute to Fernando Zobel". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Archived from the original on October 2, 2008. Retrieved August 27, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  2. ^ "6 Outstanding Artists conferred Presidential Medal of merit award". Office of the President. Archived from the original on July 12, 2010. Retrieved August 27, 2010. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ "Zobel's 'Noche Clara' goes for P6M at Christie's". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved August 27, 2010.[permanent dead link]