2 Lunas and a Hidalgo

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“PHILIPPINE art history is never static. It remains in constant flux,” remarked Salcedo Auctions director Richie Lerma, speaking about the emergence of three works by classic Filipino artists.

Following the sale of the boceto for the Spoliarium in September last year, Salcedo’s first auction for 2019 — Important Philippine Art including Important Philippine Furniture and Important Philippine Tribal & Ethnographic Art — on March 9, will have as its centerpieces Juan Luna’s boceto for The Death of Cleopatra, the painting of The Hunting Party, and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s Draped Nude, Reclining in a Forest Landscape.

In 1887, Juan Luna was taken to Spain as an apprentice of his professor Alejo Vera. At the time of Cleopatra’s creation, Luna was enrolled at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Diego) in Madrid. Inspired by French painter Jean-Andre Rixen’s artwork of the same title (in French) from 1874, The Death of Cleopatra was Luna’s silver prize-winning entry at the Madrid Exposition in 1881. The prize came with the work’s acquisition by the Spanish government. The painting is currently part of the permanent collection of the Museo del Prado in Madrid.

The boceto — a preliminary sketch — for The Death of Cleopatra belonged to the late Filipino art collector Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual. According to Mr. Lerma, its inclusion in the Luna Hidalgo retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila in 1988 and publication in the exhibition catalogue establish its authenticity.

“[It is] further validated by the National Museum through a Certificate of Authenticity that it issued [and] signed by National Artist [for Visual Arts] Jose Joya, then chairman of the authentication panel. The certificate’s control number is 94-1058,” Mr. Lerma wrote in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

According to Mr. Lerma, the boceto was acquired from Dr. Pascual by the current owner in 1990, who contacted Salcedo Auctions late last year. The current owner offered Cleopatra after the successful of the sale of the Spoliarium boceto.

“The boceto is the missing art historical link between the painting, according to Prado Museum historian Carlos Navarro, influenced Luna’s 1881 award-winning work,” Mr. Lerma wrote, referring to the relationship between the pose of Luna’s Cleopatra and Rixen’s La Mort de Cleopatre.

As written in the Revelations: Important Philippine Art booklet by Salcedo Auctions, Mr. Navarro wrote in his report: “… the departed queen’s arm dangles from the edge of her bed, which is marked in contrast to the elegant placement of her arms to her side in Luna’s 1881 entry to the Madrid Exposition.”

Mr. Lerma mentioned that the boceto, unlike the two other paintings, Luna’s The Hunting Party and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s Draped Nude, was not among those works examined in the Art Analysis and Research in London.

Luna’s The Hunting Party (1890) — which depicts two men, one on horseback and the rider’s groom, surveying a field from a hill — came from the estate of the late Doña Maria Nuñez Rodriguez (1911-1992), widow of Don Francisco Vazquez Gayoso. It specifically came from the branch of her family that formerly owned Luna’s painting España y Filipinas (1886) which is currently part of the collection of the National Gallery of Singapore. Don Goyoso inherited the paintings from his father, Don Jose Vazquez Castiñeira, then mayor of Sarria, a northern Spanish town, in the late 19th century, who is also connected to the providence of the Spoliarium bocetto.

Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s Draped Nude, Reclining in a Forest Landscape — a painting of a nude maiden laying on a rock with her lower half covered by a red cloth — also came from the same family.

In Salcedo Auctions’s pamphlet Revelations: Important Philippine Art is a photo of the reception area of the home of one of Doña Rodriguez’s heirs where one can see Hidalgo’s painting hung adjacent to Luna’s España y Filipinas.

The descendants of Doña Maria Nuñez Rodriguez contacted Salcedo Auctions regarding the ownership of the two other paintings at the same time that they were discussing the ownership of España y Filipinas and the Spoliarium boceto.

“They requested Salcedo Auctions to keep the [existence of the] two other paintings confidential until after the sale of the boceto for Spoliarium,” Mr. Lerma wrote.

Mr. Lerma wrote that the laboratory report from London’s Art Analysis & Research compared the brush strokes, style, and subject matter of both paintings with other acknowledged works of the painters.

The Draped Nude was compared with the freehand sketch of a similar image in a studio setting from 1880, a work that is part of the BPI art collection.

Dr. Jilleen Nadolny, principal investigator at Art Analysis and Research, noted in her report: “The figure and the lighting are very much the same as the present painting, as is the way the forms are modelled. As seen in the cross-sections taken in the present picture (freehand sketch), the artist was working in a layered manner, building up colors and form by the super-positioning of thin layers, as well as by using thick painterly applications.”

As for The Hunting Party, pentimenti or “changes of significance in the composition or orientation of the painting” show that the painting is by Luna. It was compared to Luna’s Los Voluntarios (1896) and España y Filipinas.

Ms. Nadolny noted that “Observations using the naked eye show the riders in each piece to be very closely hewn… each one donning gun straps across their chests, the only difference being the raised arm and the bare head of the rider of The Hunting Party…”

The paintings were examined under UV light and hyperspectral imaging in order to establish the age of the paints used. Mr. Lerma wrote: “the paintings were examined not only under UV light, but also through hyperspectral imaging, which is essentially imaging the short-wave infrared whereby different color images are obtained to show details of the painting not seen by the naked eye but that reveal the artist’s brushwork, and use of pigments and their distribution,” he explained.

The Hunting Party and Draped Nude have never been transported to the Philippines until today,” he wrote. In a subsequent interview with BusinessWorld last week at the Salcedo Auctions showroom, Mr. Lerma mentioned that both paintings arrived in the country in January this year.

Aside from those three paintings, the auction on March 9 includes artworks by other Filipino artists such as Bencab’s Sabel (2008), an untitled marble sculpture by Napoleon Abueva, and Philippine Folk Dances by Carlos Botong Francisco.

Also up for bid are antiques and furniture from the 19th and 20th century include a kamagong and narra tambol aparador (dresser) from the second quarter of the 19th century, a late-19th century baroque and rococo-inspired designed bishop’s chair, and an early to mid-20th century hagabi bench carved out of a single tree trunk.

On March 10, Salcedo will conduct an auction focusing on jewelry and timepieces. Its 67 lots will include a De Capricho three-strand seed pearl, cabochan ruby, diamond, sapphire and emerald necklace set in 14-karat yellow gold; a Rene Boivin 18-karat yellow gold ring and bracelet set; a Patek Philippe Cabriolet Gondolo 18-karat two-color gold square wristwatch; a Dubey & Schaldenbard “Grand Dome” Limited Edition No. 2 wristwatch (a very rare 18-karat rose gold chronograph wristwatch with an elaborately engraved skeletonized open case back); and a 39mm Rolex Daytona “F Series” produced in 2004.

The auctions will be held at the Salcedo Auctions showroom in Makati City.

The online catalogue is available at www.salcedoauctions.com. Auction pieces are on preview at the showroom at Three Salcedo Place, Makati City daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until March 8. For inquiries, e-mail info@salcedoauctions.com or call 659-4094, 823-0956, or 0917-894-6550. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman