Autoretrato, oil on canvas, 26-1/8”x18” Lopez Museum collection. – Gaston O’Farell’s version of Juan Luna’s self portrait, three-dimensional modeling is minimized. The most prominent features are the highlighted forehead and the sharply defined eyebrows. Downward, everthing else gradually dinishes into a flat, shadowy finish.
Juan Luna de San Pedro y Novicio was born in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, on October 23, 1857 and like Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo was the third of seven children. Early in his life, the family moved to Manila and lived in Trozo. The young Luna received his early education at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila and later at the Escuela Nautica de Manila. In 1873, he became an apprentice officer and traveled to various Asian ports. Whenever his ship was in port in Manila, he took painting lessons in the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura of Fr. Agustin Saiz.
Don Lorenzo Guerrero was the first tutor of the young Luna and persuaded his parents to send him to Spain for advanced painting lessons. Luna left for Barcelona in 1877 together with his elder brother Manual, who was a violinist. He entered the Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid, where, in a year’s time, he won the only academic prize of his school. Not satisfied with the instruction in school, he took private lessons under Alejo Vera, a famous contemporary painter in Spain. Like his teacher, Vera, too, had a high regard for his pupil. Proof of this was his taking Luna with him to Rome to undertake certain commissions.
In Rome, Luna widened his knowledge of art, for he was exposed to the imoortal works of the renaissance masters. It was there that he painted his “Daphne y Cleo” for whcich he received a silver palette from the Liceo Artistico de Manila. Subsequently, he exhibited several canvases at the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid and won a silver medal (2nd class) for “La Muerte de Cleopatra.” This painting was later purchased by the Spanish government.
Luna’s growing fame won for him a four-year pensionadoship for the Ayuntamiento de Manila. Though under obligation to paint only one canvas, he gave the Spanish government three; name, “The Blood Compact,” now in Malacañang, “Don Miguel Lopez de Legaspi,” which was burned during the war, and “Governor Ramon Blanco” (which is part of the present collection).
It was while still in Rome that Luna worked incessantly on the “Spoliarium.” He entered this paining in the Exposicion General de Bellas Artes in Madrid, and it won one of three gold medals. In the same exposition, Hidalgo won a silver medal for his ”Virgenes Cristanas Expuestas al Populache.” Because of the double victory of the two Filipino painters, Filipinos in Spain gathered to honor them. One of the Filipinos was Jose Rizal, who in boosting the two honorees also spoke for th first time of the conditions then prevailing in his country. Having attained fame, Luna now received various government commissions. These commissions produced his great canvases, such as “The Battle of Lepanto,” “Peuple et Rois” and ”España y Filipinas.”
Luna’s canvases show a distinct contrast to those of Hidalgo’s. In contrast to the ever delicate paintings of Hidalgo, Luna’s works show more drama and bravura. A forceful, dynamic man, Luna has his personality stamped on every canvas of his. His power and joie de vivre were notable characteristics of his works.
Luna sought inspiration not from his contemporaries, the impressionists, but from the romantic Delacroix, Rembrandt and Daumier from whom he learned imparting power and mysticism to his works. All these influences were incorporate in a style that was Luna’s own.
In 1885, the painter moved to Paris and established his studio at 65 Boulevard Arago, near the studio of Hidalgo. Later he moved to 175 Boulevard Pereire. Like Hidalgo’s, his studio became a gathering place for the Filipino community in Paris. It was here where Rizal and other young Filipinos organized the Indios Bravos.
The following year, 1886, he married Paz Pardo de Tavera, with whom he had a son, Andreas. The marriage ended in tragedy. Luna, in a fit of jealousy, killed his wife and mother-in-law and wounded his brother-in-law, Felix on September 23, 1892. He was acquitted of the charge of parricide and murder by a French court on February 7, 1893.
Five days later, he moved with his to Madrid, where he finished a few paintings. On April 27, 1894, he returned to the Philippines after an absence of 17 years. While in Manila, he finished some Philippine scenes. Early in 1896, he again departed, this time for Japan. He returned a few weeks after the Cry of Balintawak. On the evening of September 16, 1896, he was arrested and confined for complicity in the Katipunan revolt. He was among those pardoned during the birthday of King Alfonso XIII on May 27, 1897. The following month, he left for Spain.
In 1898, the executive board of the Philippine revolutionary government appointed him a member of the Paris delegation which was working for the diplomatic recognition of the Philippine Republic. When the Treat of Paris was signed on December 10, 1899, he was named a member of the delegation to Washington to press for the recognition of the Philippine government.
Upon hearing of the death of his brother Antonio, Luna hurriedly returned to Hongkong. On December 7, 1899, he suffered a severe heart attack and died before receiving medical attention. He was buried in Hongkong. His remains were exhumed in 1920 and were kept in the house of his son, to be later transferred to a niche at the Crypt Chapel of San Agustin.
Luna’s fame spread far and wide; he was acclaimed both in Europe and at home, yet there were skeptical Spaniards who took his race against him. Rizal defended him by saying “Genius has no country, genius bursts forth everywhere, is like light and air – the patrimony of all; cosmopolitan as space, as life and as God.”
Some important pieces of Juan Luna’s works can be found at the Lopez Memorial Museum:
Ensueños de Amor, oil on wood, 10-1/2”x12-3/4” Lopez Museum collection. – a cotnrapposto beneath bed sheets, Luna’s wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera, is the subject of this genre portrait. The picture space is predominantly painted with white, touched with pink, green and blue tints. Quick brush strokes captured the moment’s candid vision.
Mi Hijo Andres, oil on wood, 9-3/4×9” Lopez Museum collection. – a picture of innocence, this was done oin Paris, 1889. Oil pigment is used thinly as wash, and is brushed in a sketchy manner.
España y Filipinas, oil on wood, 98-5/8×31-3/4” Lopez Museum collection. (on the floor, “Gaya Gaya Putomaya” installation of Alwin Reamillo in the current Dime a Dozen exhibit). – This is one of the final studies of an allegorical painting commissioned by the Ministro de Ultramar. This painting was entered in the Exposicion Universal de Barcelona in 1888 and was declared Hors Concours. Luna made several studies of this work.