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The homecoming of the Spoliarium’s boceto

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A BOCETO of Juan Luna’s Spoliarum, which is on view at the National Museum, is the highlight of Salcedo Auctions’ upcoming The Well-Appointed Life sale.

WHEN AN exquisite item has served its purpose with an owner, it a privilege of a new owner to enjoy and appreciate its beauty.

On its fifth year, Salcedo Auctions’ The Well-Appointed Life auction will be presenting selected items from its four sale categories — important Philippine art, connoisseur collection, fine jewelry and timepieces, and rare automobiles — on Sept. 22 and 23 at the Peninsula Manila.

The centerpiece of this year’s auction is what is believe to be a boceto for Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.

Salcedo Auctions director Richie Lerma recalled receiving a mysterious e-mail in February from an anonymous private collector based in Europe.

The collector wrote that their family owned a painting which was referred to as the boceto for Juan Luna’s Spoliarium, the masterpiece that won the first gold medal at the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1884. A boceto is a study for large-scale paintings which an artists creates to map out the image prior to the final painting.

The e-mail contained photographs showing details of the brush strokes of the boceto.

As Mr. Lerma studied the photos, an interesting detail caught his attention — the signature of Juan Luna — on the lower right hand corner of the canvas. His curiosity led to further investigation of the artwork.

“Whenever an artwork is presented to Salcedo auctions, we ask questions. We don’t take everything at face value. In fact, when this piece was brought to us, we always tried to disprove any doubts that we have. And we go to great lengths to do our due diligence before we make an attribution, because we do understand the trust of the public is important,” Mr. Lerma told the press during the preview on Aug. 30.

THE EVIDENCE
According Mr. Lerma, one piece of evidence on the boceto’s authenticity was the inscription: “SPOLIARIVM = boceto,” and the baybayin (early Tagalog syllabic alphabet) symbols “BU LA = LVNA R1883” (“bu la” is the Ilokano word for “moon”).

In a booklet made by Salcedo Auctions about the discovery and examination of the boceto, the analysis of the penmanship stated: “the writing on the boceto and those on art historically accepted, exhibited, and published works by Luna matched: from the block letters that spell out the title of the artwork and the artist’s name, to the distinctive manner in which the ‘R’ preceding the year ‘1883’ echoed the manner in which the ‘R’ in ‘Roma’ had been inscribed on the other known works by Luna that he had painted in the city.”

According to Mr. Lerma, the way to examine the artwork’s authenticity is through sight and science. He noted that the type of canvas and type of stretcher (with a keyhole at the back) are of the 19th century. Mr. Lerma also noted that under the UV light test, the signature is not seen. It was an indication that “the signature was painted at the same time when picture was being painted.”

“We had the owners bring it to Manila. They had to take responsibility for it until it was transferred to us,” Mr. Lerma told the press.

He pointed out that the artwork has not been given a starting price prior the press launch. He also said that Salcedo Auctions is open to negotiations if the state is interested in acquiring the boceto.

“Who would not want this to be in a collection of [the] state to be enjoyed by as many people as possible?” Mr. Lerma told the press.

“I think by now we have a fuller picture of the creative process of [Juan] Luna,” he told BusinessWorld.

THE AUCTION WEEKEND
The auction for the important Philippine art and connoisseur collection will be held on Sept. 22. Pieces include two Paris oil paintings by Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo, two “Gold Period” paintings by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo, as well as National Artist Jose Joya’s Two Faces of Villafernandina, Fire Lake, White Symbol, and Nirvana. A large 18th century ivory Christ on the Cross, a Renaissance-style Ah Tay half-tester bed, and an 18th century Hispano-Filipino “Dinimonyo’ altar table are among the pieces in the connoisseur collection.

On Sept. 23, a Rolex Stainless Steel Cosmograph Ref. 6263 and a Rolex Submariner-Sultanate of Oman Ref. 16613 are among the fine jewelry and timepieces which will be up for auction, while vintage motor vehicles such as the Guards Red 1976/77 Porsche 911 Targa, and two collectible BMW motorcycles — R69S-1965 and R50-1969 — pioneer the rare automobiles auction.

The Well-Appointed Life auction weekend will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22, and Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila, with the preview starting on Sept. 13 and running through to Sept. 21, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at The Gallery, Level 3, The Peninsula Manila. For inquiries, call (659.4094, 823.0956, 0917894.6550) or e-mail info@salcedoauctions.com. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman