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Arts Culture Art Focus: Betsy Westendorp Brias' Colourful 60 Years In The Industry

Art Focus: Betsy Westendorp Brias' Colourful 60 Years In The Industry

Self portrait, acrylic and charcoal on canvas
By Chit Lijauco
By Chit Lijauco
January 12, 2021
For 60 years, Betsy Westendorp has created beautiful canvases that have brought joy to many homes. It is now time for a proper tribute

At 21, Betsy Westendorp left her home in Spain to follow her one true love, Antonio Brias, to Manila. Since then, she has impressively assimilated into Philippine society and embraced her second home. In Manila, too, she resumed her art, started at 13 but interrupted by her marriage, her move to Manila and the fact that Brias was not so keen on seeing his young bride pick up the brush again. Painting on the sly while her husband was at work, Westendorp started with portraiture, which immediately drew a steady flow of clientele. Brias must have known but perhaps elected to turn the other way. She also started to paint flowers but segued to landscapes, seascapes and clouds. That was 60 years of work and today, in many a home in Manila and elsewhere hangs a Westendorp, or two or more.

Betsy Westendorp at her home cum atelier, standing beside her canvas of flowers in this photograph taken by Wig Tysmans for Tatler in August 2016
Betsy Westendorp at her home cum atelier, standing beside her canvas of flowers in this photograph taken by Wig Tysmans for Tatler in August 2016

This work is now the subject of Passages: A Retrospective Exhibition of Betsy Westendorp, the first salvo for 2021 of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (The Met). The exhibition’s underlying story is the artist’s departure from Spain to commence what would be a lifetime relationship with the Philippines. It also reveals the paths that would lead to her self-definition as a woman, a wife, a mother and an artist.

“We received a proposal for the Betsy Westendorp retrospective exhibition in 2019 from her many friends,” shares Tina Colayco, president of The Met. “It would be a fitting tribute to the artist and a celebration of her professional career that would span over 60 years.”

It did not take long for the board to approve the proposal and a schedule of May 2020 was assigned to it. But it was not meant to be. “Betsy was really looking forward to the May retrospective but the Covid pandemic shut down all museums and other business establishments,” Colayco says.

Read more: The State Of The Philippine Art Scene During The Covid-19 Pandemic

Homage to Life, oil on canvas with mixed media, 2018
Fishermen’s Houses, oil on canvas, 2006
Sunrise, oil on canvas, 2013;
Leonora Sarmiento, oil on canvas, 1965
 

The Met board did not drop the project. Instead, it looked for another schedule and found one for this month. “We took into consideration the availability of Betsy to participate in a hybrid [real and virtual] celebratory launch of the exhibition, the print and online catalogue, as well as virtual conversations and dialogues,” Colayco lines up what looks like an exhibit in multi forms.

And it is. Curated by Dannie Alvarez, the retrospective gathers more than 90 artworks that will be mounted at the museum’s ground floor Tall Galleries. To strictly comply with IATF (COVID-19 Inter-Agency Task Force) guidelines and pandemic health protocols, Passages will be presented in different hybrid formats in virtual and real-time and space.

Image of Betsy Westendorp's painting captured by Erik Liongoren
Image of Betsy Westendorp's painting captured by Erik Liongoren

The physical exhibition will run at The Met ground floor Galleries from January 29 to March 15, 2021. This will be the real time launch pad for a 3D virtual tour, a biographical film documentary, various interviews and tributes by individuals and institutions and the virtual launching of a printed catalogue of the exhibition authored by art writer, curator and critic, Cid Reyes. Continuous education and public programmes in line with the retrospective, such as a fireside chat with Westendorp and webinars, will be announced and can be followed through social media throughout the exhibition run.

The catalogue for Passages is produced in partnership with the De La Salle University Publishing House while the exhibition in related formats has been made possible by the generosity of sponsors and lenders and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

Last December 14, 2020, Westendorp turned 93. Over a birthday lunch with very few close friends, she related that The Met is mounting this retrospective for her and while her words simply said she was looking forward to it, her voice failed to hide the thrill and elation emanating from her heart.

Read more: Betsy Westendorp And The Art In Her Family's Veins

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