Salcedo auctions important Philippine art

In Photo: A farm house by Juan Luna and Pagoda (1967) by H.R. Ocampo.

SALCEDO Auctions’s Important Philippine Art sale is the marquee event of the auction house near a very strategic corner of Salcedo Park in Makati. On March 7 the house will once again deliver calls for bids on a meticulously assembled collection of paintings, watercolors, fine prints and sculpture.

EKSIT SA ITAAS (1998) by Alfredo Esquillo Jr.
Eksit sa itaas (1998) by Alfredo Esquillo Jr..

Noted for its fine installations of works by old and contemporary Philippine masters, the house’s upcoming sale is bound to delight the serious art collector. Foremost in the agenda is Juan Luna’s A Farm House, an oil on wood depicting a Normandy country scene from the 1890s, whose whereabouts for nearly a century had been unknown, the only proof of its existence having been a black-and-white photograph from the Luis Araneta collection which was reproduced in the seminal book by archivist Santiago Pilar on the artist published by the Eugenio Lopez Foundation in 1980.

Of course, everyone knows that the Araneta collection was bought by Eugenio Lopez to form one of the many foundations for the Lopez Museum’s permanent collections. The museum hopes to transfer soon to a new home in Makati designed by Opéra de la Bastille (Paris) architect Carlos Ott.

Resurfacing in the collection of another respected local family, the aforementioned Luna is a veritable find. A Farm House is striking for the intensity of its cobalt yellows and viridian pigments—as well as the ecrus and browns dappled and oozing even as they model the representation of two cows in the foreground and that house looking almost hoary in northern light in the back—all in the impressionist style which was the rage of the time. After having mastered the rudiments of the academic style favored in the salons of Europe, Luna also saw the freedoms enabled by the experimentations of haze and light of the French Impressionist School prefigured by Monet and Renoir.

Alas, public knowledge of some of Luna’s later works was scattered to the winds after the artist’s scandalous murder of his own wife. The lack of archival documentation has often been problematic, causing even a few pundits to question the authenticity of the Lunas in some of our better local museums. In a personal one-on-one tour hosted by Karen Kua-Lerma of Salcedo Auctions, this issue was addressed by a notable provenance that includes the estate of a friend of Luna and Rizal, and the shareholdings of one National Artist for Architecture, Juan Nakpil, who is said to have acquired the piece because it was a study in architecture. This Luna discovery is also attributed to the efforts of Salcedo Auctions Advisor Ramon E.S. Lerma, formerly of the Ateneo Art Gallery and a protégé of noted critic Emmanuel Torres.

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Thinking man (2002) by Ronald Ventura

Important Philippine Art also includes other old, prewar masters. One oil on canvas by University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts luminary Jorge Pineda was inspired by the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. Titled A Young Nation, the piece seeks to meet the demand and revival of interest in the works of Pineda, whose Philippine Lanterns was sold last September through Salcedo Auctions for a world record of P9,440,000.

Also sprinkled among the lots are seminal pieces by old masters Fernando Amorsolo, Toribio Herrera, Isidro Ancheta, et al. There is also a rare 1919 Fabian de la Rosa landscape in oil.

Among the modern masters, three key works by National Artist Vicente Manansala are featured. These are an iconic Man with Rooster (1963), Still Life (Sinigang) (1966), and a rare 1972 Manila Street Scene.

But these are just the tip of the iceberg. Important Philippine Art presents modernist, postwar and contemporary masters. Top of the roost perhaps will be cause celebré Alfonso Ossorio’s We are Many, a circa 1950s mixed media work from his critically acclaimed “Victorias” series, and said to be executed during a visit to his family’s Negros sugar plantation.

From the same decade, an abstract expressionist oil by National Artist Jose Joya, titled Composition 20, originally exhibited at the legendary Philippine Art Gallery and still bearing the original label, arises to demand. The piece is significant as it is among the few small works from a period noted for gargantuan canvasses.

One must also consider two luminous oils by National Artist H.R. Ocampo, namely Pagoda (1967) and Untitled (1973); as well as exceptional early works on paper by Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera, and a delicious 1964 oil on canvas by Fernando Zobel, Los Ultimos Grajos, where the artist multiplies his el punto naranjas into seemingly textual ellipsis on the largely black, white and grey surface.

The painting is touted to be arguably the largest work by the heroic abstractionist to be publicly offered in the Philippines in quite a while.

Meanwhile, contemporary highlights include works by Ronald Ventura, Mark Justiniani, Rodel Tapaya and Poklong Anading, aside from other notables. Among the newer pieces are two canvasses of exceptional quality by Alfredo Esquillo Jr., an Association of Southeast Asian Nations Art Award winner. I agree with Richie Lerma that Eksit sa Itaas is a contemporary masterpiece. First seen at a one-man show at the old Ayala Museum, the work depicts religionists of the Catholic brand navigating a maze, a metaphor for the search for meaning and truth amid their dissolution and dislocation in contemporary society. This piece has had a sterling exhibition history in various museum shows in the US, Latin America and the Philippines. The other work by Esquillo is the monumental Blind Leading the Blind (Crossing), a commentary on postcolonial angst inspired by vintage photography.

Preview for Important Philippine Art is ongoing till March 6. The auction on March 7 starts at 2 pm. Salcedo Auctions is at Unit 104-B, ground level, Three Salcedo Place, 121 Tordesillas Street, Salcedo Village, Makati. A printed catalog is available, or view the one online at www.SalcedoAuctions.com.

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