The National Museum finally confirmed the identity of the woman in an unfinished portrait by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo. The woman turned out to be Florencia “Nena” Singson Gonzalez-Belo, the mother of Vicki Belo.
The painting by Amorsolo has been sitting in National Museum of the Philippines’ Gallery VI since 2015, when part of the gallery was rearranged to feature Philippine portraiture. The section devoted to Amorsolo’s portraits also includes Filipina achievers, including Vergel De Dios, Alicia Callejo Castro, and Dr. Felicidad Cruz Castro.
The unfinished portrait featuring a then-unknown subject was Amorsolo’s last work when he passed away on April 24, 1972 at the age of 79. The painting was part of the donation made by Amorsolo’s widow, Maria del Carmen Zaragoza, which also included his studio memorabilia, pieces of furniture, and more than 100 drawings and studies.
Curators found a lead to the identity of the mysterious woman when they were touring Judy Araneta Roxas inside the museum in March 2016. The socialite had helped arrange a donation of a Guillermo Tolentino statue from the President Manuel Roxas Foundation, and had decided to attend the preparations in the museum. As she was passing by the unfinished portrait, she remarked that it was Florencia “Nena” Belo.
Roxas—the widow of Gerry Roxas, and mother of presidential candidate Mar Roxas—was certain, but the museum wanted to apply the necessary due diligence in establishing the portrait’s provenance. According to National Museum’s post, they did this by conducting research through archival data, interviews, and connecting with the late Gonzalez-Belo’s network.
It took the research team more than two years to verify this claim, through the help of filmmaker Quark Henares, Vicki Belo’s son. During the verification phase, Vicki Belo herself acknowledged the “amazing story” of the painting in an Instagram post dated March 6, 2017.
“All my mom’s five sisters had Amorsolo portraits and when I asked her why she didn’t have any, she said that she has posed for it but didn’t know what happened to it,” she wrote.
“Well, it was never finished and surfaced 65 years later,” Vicki added.
Upon National Museum’s final confirmation dated October 27, 2018, Vicki also thanked the National Museum for finally naming the "Mystery Woman" in her Instagram story.
To celebrate this announcement, Vicki, with husband Hayden Kho and daughters Cristalle Henares and Scarlet Snow, also dropped by the museum to check out other works of art. They were particularly fond of Juan Luna’s portrait of his son Luling, who bared a resemblance to Scarlet Snow. Luling went on to become the prominent architect Andres Luna de San Pedro, designer of Escolta’s Crystal Arcade, the first airconditioned building in the Philippines.
*This story originally appeared on Esquiremag.ph. Minor edits have been made by the Preview.ph editors.