AT the foreground of a spring Parisian garden in Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s La Inocencia stands a young lady wearing a translucent yellow dress and a colorless gaze. The woman, who experts argue was Hidalgo’s favorite-model-turned-companion Maria Yrritia, has her head slightly tilted and looks straight at the viewer while nibbling on a flower’s stem.
Since it was painted in 1901, the lady has been exchanging innocent stares with generations and generations of the prominent Legarda family and their guests as an heirloom piece that anchored the clans’ living room. Benito Cosme Legarda y Tuason, a neighbor of Hidalgo, first acquired the painting and hung it at the sala of “La Casa Grande” in R. Hidalgo Street (formerly Calle San Sebastian) in Manila until 1938. Afterward, it was transferred to the Legarda Mansion at San Rafael—the same place that became the recently closed restaurant La Cocina de Tita Moning, where diners may have recognized the eyecatching artwork.
Now, the piece stands as the crown jewel of Leon Gallery’s fourth and final auction of the year, titled “Kingly Treasures”, to be held on December 3 at their space in Legazpi Village, Makati City. At the recent media preview of the sale, Leon Gallery Director Jaime Ponce de Leon was nothing short of ecstatic of the coveted work he described as “what arguably could be the most important Hidalgo in a private collection.”
“When I personally retrieved the work from the sala of the Legarda Mansion, my heart was pounding with the immense joy at being the custodian of this masterpiece till it finds its way to its new owner,” de Leon said, adding the lot could go between P20 million to P50 million.
Adding to the flare of La Inocenia is its frame that features curled lily pads, designed by the renowned sculptor Isabelo Tampinco. “Not only is the painting done by one of the greatest Philippine artists, but the frame is also done by Tampinco,” de Leon said. “Isabelo Tampinco is to sculpture what Juan Luna is to painting.”
Aside from the coveted Hidalgo, Kingly Treasures will also feature a rare Fernando Zobel from the artist’s celebrated Saeta series, where his art transformed into nonobjectivism. De Leon said what’s intriguing with the 1959 piece, titled Saeta #248 and shows streaks of grey and blue lines against a red background, is its vibrancy for a Zobel painting. “It’s predominantly red. It’s my first time to see a Saeta of this color. It’s extremely rare.”
Also part of the collection is another rare vibrant abstract by a renowned painter: H.R. Ocampo and his oil on canvas titled The Wall. Here, the artist made use of biomorphic elements and as de Leon quotes the experts on H.R Ocampo, “the 1950s works from him were his strongest and best.” The Leon Gallery director added that they acquired the painting from an American couple who bought it from the Philippine Art Gallery in the 1950s and kept it in the states, preserving the piece in impeccable condition. “Now, it has been sent back to be sold in the Philippines.”
In total, 149 lots will be featured in Kingly Treasures, including pieces from Roberto Chabet, Ang Kiukok, BenCab and Andres Barrioquinto. There’s also a prime collection of prehispanic gold to be auctioned off, along with a Gabaldon kamagong (ivory) bed, a Huanghuali set of furniture and an 18th-century three-door Balayong cabinet in almost pristine condition.
Asked what stands as the identity of the upcoming collection, which is on view until December 2 before its 2 pm auction the next day, de Leon pointed to the coveted La Inocencia, before crediting the rarity of the other lots.
“The Kingly Treasures is punctuated by the Hidalgo, I must say. I think it’s a rare opportunity for anybody to acquire such an important work. But also, we have an exquisite selection of modern works from Fernando Zobel to Chabet to H.R. Ocampo,” de Leon said. “I believe that collectors will find it very interesting to participate, considering that it may not happen again for such pieces to come out in the market.”