Lengthy-lost Luna ‘biggest PH artwork discover in historical past’

Juan Luna’s “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” went missing for more than half a century after the artist’s death in 1899, until it was found in thecollection of an “aristocratic family” in Europe who later agreed to sell it to León Gallery owner Jaime Ponce de Leon. For art lovers and scholars, the country’s 125th Independence Day celebration is made more momentous by its exhibition at Ayala Museum in Makati City on Monday. STORY: Long-lost Luna ‘greatest PH art find in history’

THE GLORY THAT IS LUNA | Juan Luna’s “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” went lacking for greater than half a century after the artist’s demise in 1899, till it was discovered within the assortment of an “aristocratic household” in Europe who later agreed to promote it to León Gallery proprietor Jaime Ponce de Leon. For artwork lovers and students, the nation’s one hundred and twenty fifth Independence Day celebration is made extra momentous by its exhibition at Ayala Museum in Makati Metropolis on Monday. (Picture courtesy of the Ayala Museum)

MANILA, Philippines — It’s 1886 and Juan Luna is at a excessive. Two years earlier, his giant oil portray “Spoliarium” had gained the gold medal on the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid.

Extra importantly, Luna had married Paz Pardo de Tavera on Dec. 8. Overjoyed, he started engaged on a collection of work on his honeymoon as he traveled from Rome to Venice.

An important work to emerge from that collection, almost definitely completed in 1887, was “Hymen, oh Hyménée!”

This grew to become one in every of Luna’s favourite work. He displayed it prominently in his Paris studio. He thought of this portray a prized private possession not meant for public viewing.

In 1889, on the event of the one hundredth anniversary of the French Revolution, Paris hosted the Exposition Universelle. So necessary was this worldwide occasion that this was when the enduring Eiffel Tower was inaugurated.

As a consequence of a clamor by the media, Luna was allowed to show his works as a part of the Spanish exhibit. However due to quite a lot of causes, he couldn’t really show the work he needed to exhibit. As an alternative, he submitted “Hymen, oh Hyménée!”

The work awed viewers and it gained the bronze medal — then and now the one biggest award ever accorded to a portray by a Filipino.

The portray was in Luna’s possession till 1899 when he died of cardiac arrest in Hong Kong. Then it vanished.

Juan Luna (1857 to 1899)

Juan Luna (1857 to 1899)

‘Holy grail’

There are numerous theories about what occurred to it. One principle has the Pardo de Tavera household burning it after Luna killed his spouse in 1892 out of jealousy. One other had it destroyed throughout one of many wars. One more had it being bought to a French museum.

Regardless of a frenzied search, it couldn’t be discovered, and “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” grew to become often called the “holy grail of Philippine artwork.”

Many individuals thought of it misplaced or destroyed, and we solely know what it seems like by means of surviving lithographs. But these don’t measure up, because the lithographs are monochromatic and the portray is in shade.

Then, some 50 years in the past, prolific Filipino collector Dr. Eleuterio “Teyet” Pascual was invited to view the artwork assortment of “an aristocratic household in Europe,” because the household was merely described to him.

That was when Pascual noticed the portray. It had survived.

Apparently, the portray had been purchased by the household within the Twenties. Pascual did every thing he might to purchase it, however the portray was not on the market.

Twenty years later, one other collector obtained a glimpse of the portray however, like Pascual, didn’t land it.


In 2014, León Gallery proprietor Jaime Ponce de Leon discovered himself shocked, as he stood the place the 2 others had earlier than him, watching “Hymen, oh Hyménée!”

He, too, had futilely adopted the clues in quest of the portray. He had heard of the earlier sightings however had no concept he had been invited to see the “grail,” as he known as it.

And this time, the household was able to promote.

The portray could be the one costliest piece of artwork Ponce de Leon ever purchased for his assortment. It will take three years to finish the acquisition, as this required connoisseurship and provenance to authenticate.

However in the long run, it was in personal Filipino palms.

He mentioned he wouldn’t even enterprise a guess as to its financial worth. “It’s priceless,” he advised the Inquirer. He has no plans to promote it.

Historian Ambeth Ocampo was amongst those that helped authenticate the portray.

“It was a welcome shock as a Luna scholar to return head to head with a portray unlocated in over a century. The situation is pristine, apart from a … discolored varnish that needs to be eliminated with skilled restoration and conservation to carry out its vivid colours. It has all the indicators of genuine Lunas I all the time search for,” Ocampo mentioned.

‘Olympics of artwork’

Ponce de Leon didn’t inform anybody immediately in regards to the portray. It was hidden away in a wood crate till October 2022, when he met with the Ayala Basis on fundraising concepts. When he advised them what he had, “they have been floored,” he mentioned.

After seven months of planning, Ayala Museum’s new exhibition, “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero,” will open to most people on June 12, the nation’s one hundred and twenty fifth Independence Day. For that day, entrance to the museum is free.

“The portray takes its identify from a standard historic marital chant referring to the Greek god, Hymen, who’s the god of marriage,” defined Marinella Mina, one of many exhibition’s curators.

“What you will see is the tail finish of the wedding procession. I feel one thing fairly unknown to many individuals right this moment is that numerous our wedding ceremony traditions within the Roman Catholic Church really comply with from historic Roman wedding ceremony rituals. So these are among the issues that you simply discover really, throughout the portray,” she mentioned.

Ponce de Leon famous that whereas most Filipinos contemplate the a lot bigger “Spoliarium” (at a large 4 by 7 meters) to be Luna’s masterpiece, it’s really “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” — measuring a relatively smaller 125 by 250.5 centimeters — which acquired the larger honor.

He mentioned “Paris was the bottom zero of artwork. Luna additionally gained an award, however that was in Madrid, and Madrid was the—you’ll name it provincial, or you already know in less complicated phrases—Palarong Pambansa. And this portray gained in Paris, which was like … the Olympics of artwork. So this put him within the pantheon of the best artists of the world.”

Rizal probably amongst admirers

Luna’s victory resonated amongst Filipinos. Ocampo, who wrote essays for the exhibition catalog and in addition narrated the video tour of the portray for the Ayala Museum web site, defined that it “produced a groundswell of pleasure in [his] countrymen that resonates to our occasions with Lea Salonga’s triumph on the West Finish and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s conquest of World Boxing and, final however not the least, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz bringing residence the primary Olympic Gold to a proud and grateful nation.”

Not solely that, nevertheless it was very probably that nationwide hero José Rizal noticed this portray. He belonged to the identical group of expats in Europe as Luna; he usually visited Luna’s Paris studio.

Ocampo defined that he owns the precise Nineteenth-century {photograph} of Luna’s studio, taken by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, and you’ll see the portray itself behind a settee.

Ponce de Leon mentioned “It’s inconceivable for us to not assume that Luna confirmed this scene, this portray to Rizal.”

He described the restoration of “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” because the “biggest artwork discovery in Philippine historical past.”

“Hymen, oh Hyménée!” can be on mortgage to the Ayala Museum because the centerpiece of the “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” exhibition till Dec. 31.


‘Spoliarium’ by Juan Luna (1884)

By the sunshine of Juan Luna’s artwork

Juan Luna descendants push city’s artwork revival

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