Looking for Juan Luna The Filipino Artist

Juan Luna is one of the most celebrated Filipino artists that we have. He lived at the beginning of the Philippine consciousness to freedom and independence during the 19th Century. Aside from his famous painting, Spoliarium, most Filipinos are not aware of how prolific an artist he was. He created artworks that had themes ranging from historical to everyday life.


But, was Juan Luna a Filipino artist or a European one? He trained, painted, lived, and traveled in Europe. His art style can best be described as Romanticism or Neo-classical. His brushwork also showed that particular Parisian softer-style of painting. He might have started his training in Manila during his formative years but he spent most of his adulthood abroad.

Who was Juan Luna?

Born on October 23, 1857, Luna was inspired by his elder brother Manuel who was also a painter. In 1877, he traveled to Europe to train further in his chosen craft.

Aside from being a painter and sculptor, Luna was also part of the Ilustrado movement in Europe. He interacted with the other expatriates like Jose Rizal, Felix and Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, Ariston Bautista, and Maximo Viola.

He and his brother, Antonio, were implicated and arrested by the Spanish authorities after the Katipunan movement was discovered. 

He was imprisoned in Fort Santiago for months and left his artistic legacy by drawing on the prison walls. 

He was pardoned in 1897 and returned to Spain. In the subsequent years, he was chosen as part of the Paris and Washington D.C. delegation by the newly formed Philippine Government which was headed by Emilio Aguinaldo.

Upon hearing of his brother, Antonio's, death in 1899, he traveled back to Manila via Hongkong but suffered a heart attack there. He died alone in the British Colony and was temporarily buried there until his son, Andres, brought back his remains to the Philippines in the 1920s. 

His crypt is found in San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila.

Juan Luna the Artist

Going through his catalog of paintings, I see Luna in a different perspective. I appreciate his paintings more because of the context that he was in. He was a well-educated and well-traveled Indio (this was the Spanish term for those born in the Philippines or Philippine citizens without any Spanish blood). He was able to paint in Rome and Paris which were the Art Centers of Europe. He was even living in Paris when the new Art movement called Impressionism was at its height. Imagine Luna hobnobbing with the likes of Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, Cassatt, Van Gogh, et al.

Just like any artists, he was greatly influenced by the works of the Great Masters---Goya, Rembrandt, Reubens or maybe even Delacroix. Through his success, he was able to receive government art commissions and painted works with meaning and subliminal messages. He had the passion and temperament of an artist. It could be very volatile and explosive but as well as creative.

If you're wondering what's the worth of a Luna painting---his Parisian Life painting was sold for $859, 924 in a Christie's auction in 2002. He painted this in 1892. Dr. Jose Rizal, Luna, and Dr. Ariston Bautista are also part of this scene. It's amazing to know that the painting remained with Dr. Ariston Bautista (the original owner) and his heirs for over a century before being sold at the auction house, Christie's.
You can easily see the Paris influence in this photo. A bar or cafe scene with the artist and his friends in the background. Note: one of the gentlemen is Jose Rizal. Luna might have been influenced by the Impressionist Art Movement in this painting. Before being sold at auction in 2002, it was only displayed once during the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. It won a Silver Medal. This is one of my favorite Luna artworks.

It's a shame that some of his artworks were destroyed by fire during World War II. Some paintings were also lost when his brother-in-law, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera, disposed of their collection after the scandal in Paris.

The Ayala Museum in Makati City is currently exhibiting some of Juan Luna's paintings which are owned by the Bank of the Philippine Islands.

The Lopez Museum and Library also hold a substantial amount of paintings by Luna.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the National Museum have their own catalog of Juan Luna's artworks.

A Crime of Passion

Could it be a character trait or a genetic disposition but both Luna brothers, Juan and Antonio, are known for their reckless and tempestuous streaks. 

Luna's legacy is tainted by the murder of his wife, Paz Pardo de Tavera in their Parisian home in Villas Dupont. Luna in a fit of jealousy, accused his wife of having an affair. He shot her  point-blank range. Her mother, Juliana Gorricho, was also shot by Luna and died on the scene. Paz will succumb to her injuries, 11 days after the shooting. All of this chaotic mess was witnessed by the couple's son, Andres.

Juan Luna married Paz in 1886 but 6 years later, she would die because of his temperament and rage.

Luna in 1893 was exonerated and was asked to pay just a fine (Crime of Passion as ruled by the Parisian court or if you take the Pardo de Taveras' side, an act of uxoricide). He immediately left Paris for Madrid after the verdict. He was with his brother, Antonio, and his son.

Andres Luna de San Pedro became a popular architect in the early decades of the 20th century. 

The Paintings

Who really is Juan Luna? Can we decipher his whole being through his existing paintings? Is he a Hero or a Villain? Is Juan Luna the first Filipino Artist? 

Luna and his artistic contemporaries chose to live an exiled life in Europe but it doesn't mean that they weren't involved with the fight for Independencia. They showed it through the medium of paint. The meaning of their allegorical paintings were not lost to their audience. 

It was a subtle approach made by artists and intellectuals. As more of Juan Luna's paintings see the light of day, present-day Filipinos should be able to appreciate his contributions to Philippine history and culture. 
A Filipino scene of courtship or lover's quarrel. "Tampuhan".

Award-winning "Spoliarium" or Lair of the Dead Gladiators or Lair of Death (English translation is mine). This is displayed in the National Museum.

"Blood Compact" or "Pacto de Sangre" which was commissioned by the Spanish-Philippine Civil Government and displayed in the Ayuntamiento Building in Intramuros.

"Battle of Lepanto" painted for the Spanish Senate

St. Mark's Square, Venice, Italy. One of the few outdoor paintings that Luna did.

Jose Rizal Portrait by Juan Luna

Las Damas Romanas - another historical scene. Sold at auction for $609,193 in 2008.

Mercado de Portugaleta - the brushstrokes and the outdoor scene are Impressionist factors.

Luna's portrayal of an Odalisque or Turkish harem slave. The painting is similar to  "Tampuhan" in terms of style and pigmentation. the Odalisque was a popular theme in some Classical paintings.

You would think that this was an original Luna because of his signature but this is actually his version of Velazquez's "Aesop".

I would love to see more of Juan Luna's works displayed to the public in the Philippines. I hope more of his paintings will either be donated or exhibited at the National Museum so that generations of Filipinos can truly understand how it is to be a world-class Filipino.


Francisco said…
Juan Luna was a brilliant artist whose work helped to inspire a revolution. But he was also a terrible person who unjustly killed his wife. He needs to be remembered for both of these things.