Juan Luna bust sale goes bust
What is definite at this point is the object’s historical significance as well as its authenticity, arrived at through Salcedo Auctions’ rigid investigation and documentation.
Another “missing” heritage item involving Juan Luna has resurfaced and it was set for public auction today had not the National Museum requested a halt to the sale of the bronze bust of the national hero.
Last June, in time for the country’s 125th Independence Day celebration, Luna’s long-lost painting “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” was put on exhibit at the Ayala Museum until the end of the year.
Last seen in public 132 years ago in Paris, “Hymen” was part of the “Splendor: Juna Luna Painter as Hero” exhibit, an art piece considered by many collectors as the “holy grail of Philippine art.”
But this time around, the object of controversy is a “masterpiece” with no less than the renowned artist made famous by his mural the “Spoliarium” as the subject.
The Luna sculpture has been missing for the past 78 years and was presumed to have been lost forever.
Salcedo Auctions had vouched for its authenticity following a rigorous vetting process.
It said it halted the sale of the “Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio” crafted by Spanish sculptor Mariano Benlliure after the bust’s present owners granted a request by the National Museum to hold the sale in abeyance.
The Luna bust should have been part of the Well-Appointed Life sale scheduled today, 16 September.
Salcedo Auctions said in a statement that since the owners’ acquisition of the art piece, there had been no claims of ownership by the National Museum or any other private or public institution.
This was “despite the fact that it had been featured on the cover of Chronicle Magazine in 1967, and was cataloged by the Filipinas Heritage Library.” Hence, the decision to put the bust up for auction, it said.
“We are proud and honored to have played a crucial role in bringing out to the art community the existence of a Philippine treasure, and an important part of our national patrimony,” Salcedo Auctions chairman and chief specialist Richie Lerma said.
The decision to withdraw the bust from the auction, according to the statement, was made with profound respect and a deep sense of responsibility to preserve and protect the nation’s cultural heritage.
“More than leaders in the business of art, we see ourselves above all as trusted and ethical purveyors — partners in upholding the public trust — and this outcome is a testament to that,” it said.
Nonetheless, Salcedo Auctions said discussions will continue with the bust’s owners.
“Information presented will be fairly considered before a final decision is made by the current owners. What is definite at this point is the object’s historical significance as well as its authenticity, arrived at through Salcedo Auctions’ rigid investigation and documentation.”
Among Benlliurre’s masterpieces is the tomb of the late Prime Minister Praxedes Mateo Sagasta in the Pantheon of Illustrious Men in Madrid.
The Luna bust remains on display at Salcedo Auctions until today to allow the public and those attending the live and online auction starting at 2 p.m. “to come face to face with history.”
National Museum Director General Jeremy Barns had written Salcedo Auctions’ Lerma to raise the possibility that the sculpture was the same one presented as a gift to the Philippine government in Manila on 22 October 1922.
Barns said the bust was part of the art and history collections of the National Library, as documented in the Catalog of Paintings, Sculptures materials, and Historical Objects published in 1938.
The sculpture, believed to have been lost during the destruction of the National Library and the National Museum collections in February 1945, may have indeed survived the ravages of time, given its bronze material.
The National Museum asserted that it is the successor-in-interest to such lost government properties and should be the custodian of any rediscovered artifacts.
“I am sure you agree that it must somehow be recovered by the government through appropriate and hopefully amicable means and that your support and cooperation in such an endeavor would be vital,” Barns wrote Lerma.
In the auction catalog, the sculpture was accompanied by a story of its retrieval from the ruins of the Legislative Building. The National Museum said it aims to establish the historical accuracy of this claim.
The matter has also garnered attention from heritage conservation advocate Isidra Reyes, who expressed interest in the case. Reyes, known for her popular Facebook page “Manila Nostalgia,” highlighted the historical significance and possible origin of the sculpture.
The Manila Nostalgia page said the bronze bust was commissioned by private donors through Spanish Consul General Vicente Reboulet Palmaroli. It was installed at the Ayuntamiento in Intramuros, Manila in a ceremony held on 21 October 1922, the page said.
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