Arts and Culture

Hidalgo ‘Sailboats,’ the lethal Luna Telegram, Bonifacio Papers at the León Gallery Auction

Lisa Guerrero Nakpil - The Philippine Star
Hidalgo âSailboats,â the lethal Luna Telegram, Bonifacio Papers at the León Gallery Auction
Hidalgo Sailboats

MANILA, Philippines — History and fine art closed the last auction for 2018 at León Gallery with a loud bang.   

Spirited bidding filled the room as a three-cornered fight broke out for what are believed to be among the last documents to be signed by the Katipunan founder, Andres Bonifacio. Both documents provide keen insight on the birth of our nation and sealed the fate of Bonifacio in the mountains of Cavite.

The “Extremely Historically Important Acta de Tejeros” or Tejeros Proclamation went for P4.44 Million, including buyer’s premium.  It was instigated by the Supremo against the convention that voted in Emilio Aguinaldo as president and deposed Bonifacio as head of the revolutionary government.

The ‘Extremely Historically Important Acta de Naic’ or Naic Military Agreement reaped an even higher purse of almost P5 Million. Also organized and signed by Andres Bonifacio, it leveled up his protest to an actual coup d’etat as he sought to win over key Aguinaldo generals to his side. The volleys of paddle-raises turned downright electric as the last Katipunan document of this sale went on the block.

Acta de Naic Bonifacio signature

The heroes of the Philippine-American War were also the subject of frenetic competition. An elegant “Tinio Brigade” dagger, with a hilt of horn and twisted silver wire — and named after the unstoppable General Manuel Tinio, was won at P1.1 million. The American army would send 7,000 men and two generals to take the “Lion of the North” down but to no avail. He would eventually surrender only at the behest of General Aguinaldo.

For two weeks before the auction, the most famous Filipino general, Hen. Antonio Luna, attracted crowds of both society ladies and millennial students, eager for a look at this dramatic fragment of our blood-soaked history. “At the end of the day,” noted León Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon, “we are all in love with our nation’s exciting story. It is quite inspiring that our heroes are not forgotten.”

Hen. Luna Telegram

In the end, the deadly Luna Telegram was snapped up for a remarkable P3.7 Milliion. This infamous document was discovered among the papers once belonging to Andres Luna de San Pedro, the son of Juan Luna — and nephew of the ill-fated general. The exceedingly important telegram summoned Hen. Luna to his fatal appointment in Cabantuan. On its heading are the words “Presidente Republica a Srio. Guerra.” (Luna was acting Secretary of War at the time.)

The creased single sheet of paper, with a clipped right corner signifying it had been received, was one of three telegrams sent by Emilio Aguinaldo as he fired off multiple messages to ensure at least one reached its tragic destination.

Renowned scholar of the Philippine Revolution, Jim Richardson, provided telling evidence of these numerous messages to be found in the Cabanatuan telegraph office log book, adding dramatic detail to the fascinating document.

Antonio and Juan Luna

Finding clues as in a detective story, Richardson noted that the log book revealed that there were three separate entries with the exact same text — corresponding to three identical and equally lethal messages. The telegram just auctioned at León Gallery is perhaps the most valuable as it contains Hen. Luna’s handwriting at the bottom.

Another icon of the 19th century, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, was another of the bright stars of León’s Kingly Treasures auction. ‘Sailboats off the Coast of Étretat in Normandy’ reaped a staggering P30.4 Million. Normandy was a favorite retreat of this aristocratic artist and the cliffs of Étretat are a familiar detail in many of his seascapes.

R. Hidalgo’s arch-rival in the arts, Juan Luna, was also well-represented as a glorious copy of his iconic ‘Spoliarium’ took home almost P4 Million. It was replicated, brushstroke for brushstroke, by Antonio Dumlao, the man who restored the original Luna masterpiece when it was returned to the Philippines by the Spanish government in the 1960s.

Bencab’s “Surveying the New Territory”

To complete the circle, BenCab’s early explorations of the Philippines at the turn of the century continued to enthrall collectors almost half a century since they were first seen. Two important works from his seminal “Larawan” exhibition of 1972 — based on sepia photographs unearthed in the London flea markets— were important highlights of the sale.  “Society-Conscious Filipina,” a delicately-painted portrait of a woman in a terno, achieved nearly P4 million; “Surveying the New Territory,” of a colonial master in a pith helmet, went for P3 million.

Ponce de Leon also noted that several works “featuring emotionally-riveting madonnas and sons made very strong showings.” Ang Kiukok’s “Eighth Station of the Cross (Jesus Consoles the Women of Jerusalem)” registered P14 million while National Artist Vicente Manansala’s “Fisherman’s Wife” came in close to that benchmark at almost P13 million. Malang’s “Green Virgin” of spiritual bounty realized P7 million.

BenCab’s “Society-Conscious Filipina”

Dean Jose Joya’s 1957 masterpiece, which foretold the splendors of the record-breaking “Space Transfiguration,” obtained P10.5 million. Fernando Amorsolo, titan of the Philippine landscape, continued to expand his loyal collector base, as various sunlit rice fields reflected solid support.

World records for contemporary artists were set : namely for 33-year-old Zean Cabangis as well as enfant-terrible Manuel Ocampo. Danilo Dalena, said to be a strong contender for the next National Artist Awards,  secured P4 Million with the piece titled “Game Over,” in tune with the current Ateneo-UP basketball rivalry.

With the rumored entry of the Philippine government in the bidding for historical memorabilia in 2019, an even more exhilarating new year at the auctions can be expected.

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