Anita Magsaysay-Ho

This Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting has a priceless story to tell

León Gallery has a history of auctioning Anita Magsaysay-Ho paintings at staggering prices, but ‘Harvestersbears a story that goes beyond money and riches.

Every Anita Magsaysay-Ho painting comes with a good story, whether it’s about the subject of the work, its journey across owners and galleries, or the hype that it generates at every show or auction. 

For its last major auction for the year, León Gallery showcases another acclaimed work by the modernist. And while previous Anitas from the auction house have made headlines for their staggering prices, this particular painting for The Kingly Treasures Auction 2023 bears a moving story about family: the memories we spend with loved ones and the people we cherish and choose as part of our dearly beloved. 

The roots of Anita’s visions

Harvesters has the hallmarks of an Anita: kerchief-wearing women at work, lush flora, and picturesque sceneries. It depicts images and impressions that the young Magsaysay-Ho witnessed during her summer vacations at Zambales, where the painter’s father settled. 

“I thank my parents for bringing us to Zambales. These scenes of my childhood are so vivid in my mind; women pounding rice, winding our way back to town in the dusk after the picnic, the oil lamp-lit windows of the nipa huts sparkling like fireflies in the dark,” Magsaysay-Ho wrote in An Artist’s Memoirs.

“Had I never holidayed in Zambales, I do not think I would have the depth of impressions which I subconsciously draw upon with so much fondness and passion when I paint,” she added. 

A 1957 advertisement for Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s solo exhibition, showing how the modernist’s works and shows were highly anticipated ever since. Photos from León Gallery.

Harvesters appeared twice on the halls of the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) in 1957: first, as part of PAG’s sixth anniversary show on August 24, 1957; and on November 30 in the same year when Magsaysay-Ho mounted her solo exhibit. It was the talk of the town at the time, not only because it was to be exhibited at the modernist PAG, but Magsaysay-Ho was quite elusive then. Word of her skills abounded among the country’s culturati then, and attending one of the modernist’s rare shows was an artistic treat. 

Beyond family ties

In tracing the ownership of Harvesters, León Gallery refers to PAG’s 7 Years of the Philippine Art Gallery, produced in 1958. The book lists taipan Dee Kee Chiong as its owner.

“This particular Anita is from the collection of the taipan Dee K. Chiong, president and chairman of the country’s first Filipino-Chinese bank. It would be a gift from his wife Regina to Mr. Dee’s loyal secretary of almost 20 years. This particular Anita was exhibited twice at the Philippine Art Gallery in 1957 and is in its official records as owned by Mr. Dee,” writes León Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon in the foreword of the auction catalog.

The PAG catalog lists Dee Kee Chiong as the owner of Harvesters.

León Gallery curator Lisa Guerrero Nakpil further writes about the secretary in question, Leticia B. Lucas, and praises her work ethic and unwavering dedication not only to the Dee family, but also to China Bank. Graduating from the University of Santo Tomas with a degree in commerce, the young Lucas spent 20 good years—17 of which reporting to the president directly—working for the country’s first Filipino-Chinese bank.

After a simple test of integrity, wherein Lucas refused to make a commission by purchasing items from a Binondo hardware store at a higher cost (the late taipan had ordered her to buy some materials and deliberately asked the store owner to inflate the prices to test Lucas), the secretary earned the trust of her employer and the family as a whole. Since then, the Dees would play an important role in Lucas’ life, becoming witnesses to her wedding and occasionally helping out in raising her children with businessman Rolando Lucas. 

China Bank at Paseo de Roxas, Makati.
The newlyweds, Leticia Lucas and Rolando Lucas. To the right of the groom is Dee K. Chiong, who served as sponsor for the wedding.

A few years after Dee K. Chiong died in 1980, Regina Dee gave Harvesters to Lucas as a gift, with the foresight that the painting might be of great value in the future. Nakpil notes that the Dees would stay in Lucas’ life until her passing in 2002, wherein Regina and her son Derek paid their respects to the bereaved family. 

That Harvesters would feature at León’s last auction for the year is only fitting. For one, there is a recent resurgence of interest toward the late taipan and Regina Dee because of their granddaughter, Miss Universe Philippines 2023 and top 10 Miss Universe finalist Michelle Dee. 

Beyond the universe, however, are heartfelt stories of family memories and cherishing those even beyond our own kin, encapsulated by Anita Magsaysay-Ho’s Harvesters. As such, it’s only appropriate that the painting resurfaces at a time when we all gather with our loved ones and enjoy the moments that we spend with them.

Leticia Lucas at 61.

The Kingly Treasures Auction will take place at 2pm, December 2, 2023, at Eurovilla 1, Rufino cor. Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati. Previews are ongoing until December 1, 2023, from 9am to 7pm. For inquiries, email or call 8856-2781. To browse the catalog and gather more information, visit their official website, their Facebook page, or Instagram account.

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