Is that Spoliarium boceto the real deal? Here’s what a historian has to say
Historian raises questions about Spoliarium boceto’s authenticity a week before auction, saying Salcedo Auctions has until Sunday to find documentation linking the boceto to Luna’s Filipino, not Spanish, patron
Sep 18, 2018
Five days before it goes under the gavel, the debate still rages whether a boceto of Juan Luna’s Spoliarium that will be offered by Salcedo Auctions is the real deal.
Expected to fetch at least nine figures on Sunday, Sept. 23, at the Rigodon Ballroom of The Peninsula Manila, the boceto or study of the life-size ouvre enjoying prime real estate at the National Museum has invited suspicion whether it was indeed painted by Luna.
Inquirer columnist and noted historian Ambeth Ocampo is a prominent skeptic, writing at least two articles that have appeared on different dates and in different sections of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The more recent column seen Monday has Ocampo asserting that “historians use a different lens from art collectors and investors” when viewing works of art.
Given the limited opportunity to examine authenticity via physical evaluation of the boceto, he stressed that “historical documentation or provenance” is another means to do so.
While the boceto presented by Salcedo Auctions director Richie Lerma before journalists late August “does resemble” the Spoliarium, Ocampo said the work is “definitely old, but is it by Luna?”
Ocampo presented two stories explaining the boceto’s origins. The first tells of the painting coming “from the collection of a Franco-era politician who served as ambassador of Spain to post-war Philippines.”
He mentioned an anonymous envoy who “allegedly amassed a collection of paintings by Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo in Manila and brought them back to Spain.”
The second story echoes what Lerma told also media—that the auction director’s own sleuthing led to information about a Jose Vazquez Castińeira, former mayor of Sarria town in northern Spain, who lived across a certain Matias Lopez, regarded as the “Chocolate King” with ample connections to the King of Spain during the late 1800s.
Lerma said he learned the King appointed Lopez commissioner of the Spanish Pavilion in the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition where Luna and Hidalgo showed their works.
Lerma’s theorized Castiñeira eventually bought the boceto from Lopez, who would have been a patron of the two Filipino painters.
“The problem with this story,” Ocampo’s column pointed out, is that “historical documentation suggests that the boceto was still in the collection of Luna circa 1892-93.”
Still, Ocampo went on to acknowledge Lerma’s addendum, that Castiñeira’s son Francisco Vazquez Gayoso and wife Maria Nuñez Rodriguez remained childless, and that the widow Maria eventually divided their estate, including the boceto, among relatives.
Also among the heirlooms were a painting by Hidalgo and the second of seven versions of Luna’s “España y Filipinas” series of paintings that now hangs in the National Gallery of Singapore.
Ocampo said that unlike the boceto, the Luna painting in Singapore “comes with incontestable visual history.”
He said an image of the painting in Singapore “was reproduced with commentary in the magazine ‘La Ilustracion Artistica’ of Dec. 13, 1996.”
Ocampo also noted that an actual photograph of the “unfinished painting on an easel was also published in ‘Catalogue des Photographes Editeurs. Madrid Calle de Narciso Serra 5 (Pacifico) Serie A. IV. Oevres de Peinture et de Sculptures des artistes modernes 1896.”
The historian implied it works against Lerma that the pictures, “together with historical documentation, trace the painting’s ownership way back to the eccentric Filipino expatriate in Madrid, Pedro Alejandro Paterno (1857-1911), who was a friend and patron of Luna.”
Sought for comment, Salcedo Auctions sent a text message saying that while it is “aligned that further forensic evaluation is necessary, we remain confident that the work is an original and authentic work by Juan Luna y Novicio on the basis of its strong provenance, documentation, art historical context, artistic style and scientific evidence.”
It also asserted that “a side-by-side comparison of sections from the original painting now at the National Museum and the artwork that had surfaced shows many similarities as well as marked differences between the terms of brushwork and finish, not to mention the addition (or subtraction) of details, the shifting of forms within each composition, and changes in hues and tones—qualities that can be explained by understanding the nature of the work that was being presented, the artist having clearly inscribed this work as a “boceto” or study.”
At the media presentation, Lerma invited journalists to examine the signature at the bottom right side of the boceto.
There was an inscription that says “SPOLIARIVM = boceto” followed by an upside down heart with a dot under the right curve and a capital T with a wavy tail.
The last inscription was “LVNA = 1883.”
Lerma said artists usually sign only their final works, not bocetos. The one from Sarria, Spain had a signature done in “an unhesitating manner, in flowing penmanship,” he added.
The Salcedo Auctions director said he later learned the inscriptions are baybayin glyphs used by pre-Hispanic natives that when translated mean “BU” and “LA” that put together is the the Spanish word for moon. Luna was an Ilocano.
Lerma even quoted Ocampo as saying Luna had at least two other works that carried baybayin glyphs.
The Inquirer columnist meanwhile, said Lerma has several days “to find a 19th century photograph of the painting, or a connection between the painting and Paterno, or Paterno’s Spanish wife.”
“His other problem,” Ocampo added, “is that authenticity might incite heritage advocates to rally for the acquisition or appropriation of the boceto for the nation,” instead of a record-breaking sale.
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