By Hanah Tabios
The Spanish descendants of 19th century master painter Joaquin Maria Herrer y Rodriguez , an award-winning landscape artist, have finally found his long lost grave at the La Loma Catholic Cemetery in Caloocan City.
For the longest time, no one knew that the Spanish artist’s remains were buried in Manila until a recent Facebook post of a certain Ronaldo Samson Adoptante circulated on social media.
In the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas, Adoptante consolidated all the information and shared how the quest began.
It was his friend who curiously took the photo of a “lonely tomb” inside La Loma Cemetery. The photo was first posted in another Facebook group Manila Nostalgia, to which some members–artists and researchers based abroad responded that it was a prominent foreign artist back in the 19th century as the almost faded stone inscription reads:
Joaquin Maria Herrer y Rodriguez, Pintor y Profesor de la Escuela de Bellas Artes de Manila. Born Madrid 1838 – Died Manila 1917.
Herrer’s forgotten gravestone was covered with tall grass with vines looped around his sculptured face, highlighting his European features very well.
19th century master painter
A quick search in the Museo Del Prado’s website showed that Herrer was a student of world-renowned Spanish painters Federico de Madrazo and Carlos Mugica at the Special School of Painting, Sculpture, and Engraving of San Fernando in Madrid.
He then became a government scholar at the Imperial Academy in Paris, France where he also became a student of 19thcentury Swiss artist Charles Gleyre and eventually became part of a group of Spanish artists along with Mariano Fortuny, Martin Rico, and Eduardo Zamacois. Herrer spent long years in Rome, Italy before his works were exhibited both in Madrid, Spain and Paris, France.
Later on, he became a well-known Spanish artist recognized through his landscape paintings, specializing in church interiors. He was a professor of drawing at the Institute of Second Teaching of Ciudad Real, a city in Castile-La Mancha, Spain. During his years, he participated in several artistic events, sold a number of paintings, and received highest recognitions in Europe.
Some of his notable artworks were the oil in canvas paintings A Neopolitan villager (1864), The Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday (1880), and Checkmate (1887), among others.
In the Philippines, Makati-based auction house Leon Gallery International acquired one of his paintings, Interior Scene, which was later sold at around P400,000 in 2015 as stated on its website.
Filipinas Heritage Library also stated that some of his artworks were also acquired by the late Don Enrique Zobel.
Herrer has no trace of Filipino blood, but between the years of 1893 to 1895, he arrived in Manila according to the one-stop digital research center.
He was among the early professors who taught painting at the University of Philippines (UP) School of Fine Arts which is the oldest arts and design educational institution in the country. Among his students was National Artist for Visual Arts Fernando Amorsolo, dubbed as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art”.
He died in the Philippines in 1917, but Museo Del Prado’s website would say otherwise – 1892. London-based Adoptante deduced that Herrer was probably not able to Europe, hence the Madrid records assuming that he died on the year he disappeared because no one knew he went to the Philippines.
The quest of Herrer’s descendants
Adoptante, who played a vital role in the story, left a message in Museo Del Prado’s website detailing how Herrer’s remains were found in the Philippine capital city. The institution is the main Spanish national art museum located in the heart of Madrid.
In his post, Adoptante said his message was written in Spanish since he lived in Bilbao, a city in northern Spain, for several years.
Adoptante waited but there was no response. But roughly after three or four months, he said he received a Facebook message from a certain Jozsef Palfalvi.
The man introduced himself as a “relative from the family of Joaquin Maria Herrer y Rodriguez in Hungary.” Palfalvi, who resides in Budapest, said that his wife’s nephew, Balazs Juhazs, was bound for Manila by the end of February 2017. He was asking for Adoptante’s assistance to lead him to his great-great grandfather’s tomb in Manila’s oldest Catholic cemetery.
Palfalvi said the family read Adoptante’s message at the museum’s website, emphasizing that they have long been in search of Herrer and his whereabouts. At that time, Palfalvi said the message also coincided to Herrer’s 100th death anniversary.
Adoptante also found out further connections with Herrer’s descendants. It turned out that Palfalvi’s wife, Krisztina Herrer y Marcher, was the great-granddaughter of the older Herrer, whose only son Cesar Maria Herrer y Marcher went to Budapest from Madrid to teach in the School of Arts in Budapest.
Palfalvi told Adoptante that Cesar married a Hungarian lady, hence, making Herrer’s descendants Hungarian nationals.
Data from Museo Del Prado’s website showed that Cesar was a Spanish landscape painter who specialized in views of Venice, Italy as he lived and studied in the country before finally settling in Budapest. He followed the footsteps of his father and trained alongside with him.
So in February 2017, Adoptante finally bridged the missing piece in the family heritage by bringing the visiting descendant to La Loma Cemetery. The master painter’s tomb was located near Cayetano Arellano’s mausoleum, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
But the revelations did not end there as Adoptante also found out that Juhazs formerly worked in Manila’s central business district Makati City years ago without knowing that his ancestor was buried in the city.
According to Adoptante’s post, he was able to meet the entire family in November of the same year during his tour in Europe. There, he personally witnessed the works of Cesar and Joaquin Herrer’s most important painting—the portrait of his wife Maria Angeles Marcher.