Juan Luna headlines Salcedo Auctions’ ‘The Well-Appointed Life’

A bust of the Filipino artist and activist joins works by other passionate masters of Philippine art.

Salcedo Auctions’ “The Well-Appointed Life” is set to take place on September 16, 2023 at 2 pm. Themed “Igniting Passions,” the auction features works of art, prized artifacts, and precious objects whose stories transcend history.

One of the pieces on offer can be said to be representative of this passion: the bust of 19th century Filipino painter Juan Luna, made by his friend and fellow artist Mariano Benlliure. It is an inspired work depicting a famous (and infamous) figure who, as history tells us, was driven by intense passion in his artistic and personal life.

Benlliure was a Spanish sculptor who was notable for his many public monuments celebrating Spanish royalty such as King Alfonso XII in Madrid and Queen Isabel la Católica in Granada. He is known as the last master of 19th century realism—his sculptures characterized by careful executions of everyday events and persons.

Through Luna, Benlliure and his artist brother Juan Antonio forged friendships with other Filipino artists such as Félix Ressurección Hidalgo and Miguel Zaragoza. Several members of their pensionado group participated in the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884, obtaining various awards: Luna, the First Class Medal for Spoliarium; Hidalgo, Second Class Medal for Las Virgenes Cristianas Expuestas al Populacho; Juan Antonio Benlliure, Second Class Medal for De él Por la Patria; and Mariano Benlliure, a Second Class Medal for his sculpture Accident! 

In the same year, Mariano created a bust of Luna, capturing the brash youthfulness and confidence of the 27-year-old artist.

Benlliure’s signature at the nape of the bust’s neck.

Salcedo Auctions notes that there are three busts of Juan Luna by Benlliure known to be in existence: two originals by the artist, and a third one, a casted copy of the sculpture on offer. To protect their Benlliure, the Multinational Investment Bancorporation (now known as MIB Capital Corporation) commissioned a replica in 1982 from Mulawin Abueva, son of National Artist Napoleon Abueva and also an artist in his own right.

In order to safeguard the authenticity of the artwork, and out of respect for Benlliure, Abueva removed the signatures and inscriptions from the replica, which was displayed in the institution’s public area, while the original was kept safe in a vault. The other Luna bust is one of the prized artworks in the collection of the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Museum. It is taller by three inches—a bronze-painted plaster bust that portrays a seemingly slightly older Luna in a suit. Fundación Mariano Benlliure dates this piece to around 1887.

For “Igniting Passions,” the Juan Luna bust will be joined by a rare early work by National Artist Carlos “Botong” Francisco, which is also part of the MIB collection. His 1938 Ang Aguinaldo reflects the early, post-impressionist style of the Master from Angono, hinting at the dramatic, flowing gestures and idealized heroic proportions that would define his subsequent grand-scale canvases and murals.

Carlos “Botong” Francisco, “Ang Aguinaldo,” 1938, oil on canvas, 71 x 96.5 cm.

An Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting also appears in the auction, showing four elegant women carrying baskets. This painting holds a special place in the artist’s oeuvre as it was personally gifted to Cesar Jacinto Lomotan, former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of the Philippines.

Anita Magsaysay-Ho, “Untitled (Women with Baskets),” 1976, oil on canvas, 75 x 93 cm.

Included in the “Important Philippine Art” section of the sale are works by National Artists Ang Kiukok, Jose Joya, Federico Aguilar Alcuaz, Arturo Luz, J. Elizalde Navarro, and BenCab; pioneering modernists Juvenal Sansó, Oscar Zalameda, Nena Saguila, Fernando Zobel and Malang; renowned contemporary artists Lao Lianben, Emmanuel Garibay, Solomon Saprid, Betsy Westendorp, Ramon Orlina, and Santiago Bose; and trailblazers Rodel Tapaya, Jose John Santos III and Pam Yan-Santos, Alfredo Esquillo, Jr. and Andres Barrioquinto.

The Well-Appointed Life, September edition, is supported by RHK Land Corporation. View the online catalogue of The Well-Appointed Life by clicking the link provided. For  inquiries,  email info@salcedoauctions.com or phone +63 917 825 7449 | +63 917 591 2191 | +63 917 107 5581. Follow @salcedoauctions on Instagram and Facebook.

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