The ultimate Filipino collector Paulino Que and Jaime Ponce de Leon of Leon Gallery with the world record-holding Amorsolo “Under the Mango Tree” (1931) which went for P46.7 million
Collectors vote with their wallets, elect Rizal as country’s fave hero
Lisa Guerrero Nakpil (The Philippine Star) - June 18, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — When the question as to which hero is more beloved — Rizal or Bonifacio — was posed a couple of weeks ago, the debate raged hot and long. (Of course, there were also some spoilsports who felt that kind of question was unseemly, but it is still a legit question even in this day and age.)

Well, it looks like the collectors voted with their wallets and elected José Rizal as the country’s favorite hero at the recent León Gallery Spectacular Mid-Year Auction. Thus, on the eve of the Great Malay’s 157th birthday, a variety of artworks associated with this noble man were pursued enthusiastically.

Among the first to be snapped up was a ravishing Isabelo Tampinco chair, carefully crafted to please Don Maximo Viola, Rizal’s fellow ilustrado and the financier of the printing of the Noli Me Tangere. The seat — with bamboo-shaped arms, legs of the areca palm and accents of anahaw leaves — is a visual botanical lesson on the country’s most luscious flora. This piece went for P4 million, including buyer’s premium.

A painting of the USS Rizal by Alfredo Carmelo was the most accessible at P350,000.

Charming in its own right was a painting of an exotic seagoing creature — the USS Rizal, an American destroyer with a famous Filipino name. In a strange turn of events, the Philippine government had donated it “by legislative decree” to the United States in 1919. It was primarily manned by Filipinos and would winter in Manila Bay during the 10 years it served in Asia as a minelayer. Alfredo Carmelo (the country’s foremost artist of all things nautical) would capture it in all its glory two decades after it would be decommissioned. This beauty was the most accessible among the Rizal memorabilia for P350,000.

A recipe for “Bolognese Sausage,” found among the Teodora Alonso Rizal papers, was among the memorabilia that fetched P2.4 million in total. Renowned chef Margarita Fores even made it the centerpiece of a special dinner, recreating the flavor of an Italian-style embutido to the delight of collectors.

There was the stately Arnedo Table on which Rizal was said to have dined — incognito at that, until he sheepishly volunteered his identity to his host-with-the-most, Capitan Joaquin Arnedo of Sulipan, the biggest landowner of those parts at the turn of the century. This precious furniture (sometimes called a “magic table” because it could run longer or shorter according to the segments brought out) fetched P7.6 million.

Jose Joya’s “Amihan” sold for P7.6 million.

The mood, however, was genuinely electric when the bas-relief simply titled “The Filipino” came into view. This three-foot-high sculpture, made by Jose Rizal while cooling his heels in distant Dapitan, was the subject of some of the day’s most spirited bidding. More than three collectors sent in rapid-fire offers from both the salesroom floor and the telephone. When the dust had settled, the work had gone to a Rizalist for the princely amount of P17.5 million, approximately the same amount as the equally hotly contested “Jabali” (or “Wild Boar”) in a León Gallery auction a few years ago. Its founder and managing director, Jaime Ponce de Leon, declared that “it was a most historically valuable piece, which revealed much about Rizal and his struggle for our independence.”

Equally intriguing was the bidding war for the Lorenzo Guerrero masterpiece “At River’s Bend” a pocketsize work measuring just seven inches by 11 inches. This splendid view of the Pasig and the fields around it is believed to be dated from 1868, the year Guerrero would travel down the river in pursuit of the woman who would eventually become his wife. It pulled in exactly the same amount as the tree-trunk-size Rizal at P17.5 million. “This makes it officially the most expensive Filipino painting in terms of size,” said Ponce de Leon. “Part of the reason being that this is the first time that a Guerrero is brought to auction. Only a very few of the great collectors have one. The National Museum has just two. Lorenzo Guerrero is quite simply our Vermeer.” He was, in fact, the man who taught Juan Luna how to paint and was an imaginatively lyrical artist in his own right.

Cousins Rafael Ma. Guerrero and author Lisa Guerrero Nakpil flank the most expensive Philippine painting to date, based on size: Lorenzo Guerrero’s “At River’s Bend.” Lorenzo Guerrero is the older brother of Lisa’s great-grandfather Leon Ma. Guerrero.

The absolute star of the sale, however, was a hero among painters, Fernando Amorsolo — the country’s very first National Artist.  His “Under the Mango Tree,” painted for the sister of the man who sent him to Spain to study at the Royal Academy of Madrid, hit a staggering P46.7 million. Each leap up the million-peso ladder was met with thunderous applause. The work handily surpassed the previous international benchmark of P28 million to establish a new world’s record several millions higher. The painting once hung in the palatial home of the Conde de Peracamps, the Melian-Zobel.  

What makes such legendary pieces? “It can never be described — nor explained,” said Ponce de Leon. “It isn’t just provenance, although that’s important; nor is it all about size or rarity, also both quite important. It’s that magical quality that makes a certain kind of beauty simply eternal.”

Chef Gaita Fores and the re-created Teodora Alonso Rizal recipe for “Bolognese Sausage”

Indeed, the inexpressible could be found in two disparate works: Jose Joya’s “Amihan (North Wind)” from 1953 is this master’s nod to Amorsolo’s farmscapes, men filling sacks of rice amid a green and gold sunlit field. (You can sense he can barely restrain his brush from going full-on impressionist and Joya’s sister would recall how Amorsolo would feel profoundly betrayed when his star pupil would join the abstractionists — and would not mince words saying so.) This view of the Philippine countryside, measuring 13 by 16 inches, would reap P7.6 million. On the other hand, Roberto Chabet’s “Blind Window” — from the Texas School Book Repository from where Lee Harvey Oswald felled JFK — pulled in an astounding P9.3 million, a high for this CCP curator and 13 Artists’ founding father.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?
Login is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with