Toribio Herrera was born in Tondo and graduated with a degree in Medicine from UST in 1912. He took a second course to earn a Fine Arts degree from UP. As a physician, Dr. Herrera’s intimate understanding of human anatomy made him the school’s most prominent teacher of that subject, as well as of perspective.
He served as a meticulous mentor to generations of UP Fine Arts students, including Vicente Manansala, Carlos Francisco, Cesar Legaspi, Napoleon Abueva, Jose Joya, Abdulmari Imao and Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, who all became National Artists. Other notable visual artists who came under his tutelage were the painter Araceli Dans and the popular cartoonist Lauro Alcala.
Ironically, in his lifetime, Dr. Herrera never exhibited his works in public, eschewing monetary rewards for his art. He never attempted to sell a painting while he lived. The first exhibition of his works was held in 1972, four years after his death.
Now, 37 years later, his available works and memorabilia are again showcased as a tribute to the doctor who became an excellent painter of classic rural scenes. Among his favorite subjects were countryside images: mountains, rivers, brooks, flowers, women traversing dirt roads during the rainy season, lavanderas, and ladies formally clad in a terno.
One of the paintings on exhibit is Herrera’s classic “Monsoon Rain,” a 20” by 26 5/8” oil on canvas dated 1955. It shows his full mastery of human anatomy, as manifested by the twisting torso and backside of a woman buffeted by strong winds.
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“After Mass,” a 16” by 12” oil on lawanit, dated 1951, shows a lady in a terno, with a parasol shielding her head and shoulders from the harsh sun. The interplay of glorious sunlight and moving shadows, also seen in the parallel images of a young girl covering her face with a fan and a woman vendor in salakot seated on the church patio, both in the background, suggests that Dr. Herrera was a peer of the great Amorsolo in more ways than one. Masterful too in terms of composition is the inclusion, almost as a mysterious afterthought, of a man wearing a dark hat who has just emerged from behind a large central pillar
Another painting, also owned by the Herrera Family Estate, whose date is ineligible but is likely to also be circa 1950s, is “Virginal Lagoon,” an 18 7/8” x 26 1/16” oil on canvas, depicting a shimmering waterscape with attendant sunlit glory gently assaulting tropical vegetation.
If only for these three obra maestras, a visit to the GSIS gallery should be well worth it. The exhibit also includes Dr. Herrera’s old photographs, medical paraphernalia, as well as art materials that were saved when his original house was burned.
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