In his canvases, Amorsolo popularized the image of the beautiful and
modest dalagang Filipina (Filipino maiden) in her traditional domestic
roles. Of great influence was his ideal feminine type: the smiling,
young woman of fair complexion and slender figure, wearing a colorful
native costume which showed no sign of wear and tear from work and the
tropical weather. He idealized the peasant, whom he situated in a
rural idyll where nature was ever bountiful and hunger and strife were
He was the first to extensively portray traditional Filipino customs and manners, fiestas, and occupations like fishing, planting, going to market, washing laundry, cooking, and reading. He also did a series of historical canvases on precolonial scenes, such as Early Filipino State Wedding, Traders, and Sikatuna, as well as events surrounding 'the colonization or' the Philippines, such as The First Mass in the Philippines, The Building of Intramuros, and Burning of the Idol. These works, reproduced in many textbooks and calendars, shaped the visual imagination of many generations of Filipino children. Amorsolo is credited with having captured the elusive Quality of Philippine light. In his landscapes and genre paintings, he used the technique of backlighting in which the figures are situated against the light, thus outlining them with a golden glow. He preferred to paint in natural light, learning to be quick and decisive in his work since "light changes rapidly and you have to be fast in order to catch the mood with which you started out." In the 1930s he was earning enough from his painting that he gave up commercial artwork. His idyllic genre scenes were a favorite with American officials and visitors in search of tropical exotica. A master of portraiture, he was lionized by the moneyed and powerful for whom he painted countless works. Over the years he took to photographing his works, mounted them in an album, and asked prospective patrons to choose what they wanted and indicate the size they needed. Amorsolo did not make exact replicas, varying some elements in the painting.
The volume of paintings, not to mention sketches and studies that came from Amorsolo is formidable. A complete listing of his works is yet to be made. Some have unfortunately been lost or stolen, among them a mural he painted for the Metropolitan Theater. Also remarkable was his speed at executing his works three life size paintings for the Philippine Pavilion in the 1931 Paris Exposition were finished in less than a month. In the 1950s till his death he averaged 10 paintings a month; but, during his final years, diabetes and cataracts and the death of two sons affected his works.
When another generation of Filipino painters wanted to break new paths, it took the form of a revolt against the Amorsolo school, which had been dominant for at least three decades. Modernism arose largely as a reaction to Amorsolo's style. He and sculptor Guillermo Tolentino were the object; of a diatribe led by such modems as Victorio Edades and Galo B. Ocampo.
Among the honors he received are: the Outstanding UP Alumnus Award, 1940; the Rizal Pro Patria Award, 1961; an honorary doctorate in the humanities from the Far Eastern 'University, 1961; 'the Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award from the City of Manila, 1963; the Republic Cultural Heritage Award, 1967; and the Gawad CCP para sa Sining, 1972. In 1973 he became the first artist to be proclaimed National Artist by the government.