Prized art from Don J. Antonio Araneta up for auction 2
Don J. Antonio Araneta traveling with his wife Margarita. Together, they built a stunning art collection that counted works from Luna and other modernists.
Culture

Meet the other Araneta who’s just as passionate about collecting art as famous brother Luis

Growing up surrounded by beauty and art in Manila’s wealthiest neighborhood only helped to refine his taste
ANCX Staff | Jun 05 2022

When we talk about the Araneta legacy on the arts, the very first name to come to mind is Luis Ma. Araneta, the pioneer heritage conservationist, architect, decorator, businessman, and arts patron. But one man comes in the same league as his famed brother: J. Antonio Araneta. Together with his wife, Margarita, J. Antonio had a passion—and a discerning taste—for all things beautiful. The couple eventually built a significant collection of paintings.

Don J. Antonio and Margarita Araneta
Don J. Antonio and Margarita Araneta. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

Don J. Antonio Araneta was born on March 19, 1905, in Santa Mesa, Manila. He was the son of lawyer and nationalist Don Gregorio Soriano Araneta and award-winning painter Doña Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas of the wealthy Spanish mestizo Zaragoza and Roxas clans of Manila. 

Don Gregorio and Doña Carmen established the Araneta family name as one of the most illustrious and prominent in Manila high society. They had 13 other children apart from J. Antonio: Carmen, Jose, Salvador, Consuelo, Paz, Rosa, Teresa, Ramon, Vicente, Conchita, Margarita, Luis, and Francisco. J. Antonio’s public persona was shaped by his distinguished career as a lawyer, having followed the footsteps of his father in establishing a notable law career. He was known for being uncompromising in his dealings, always standing for what he believed in. 

A 1953 oil portrait of Margarita by Fernando Amorsolo
A 1953 oil portrait of Margarita by Fernando Amorsolo. Image courtesy of Leon Gallery

Even in his legal writings, the legal luminary had what the family history titled “1030 R. Hidalgo” described as “a preference for lucidity and a disdain for literary flourish that oftentimes beclouds the thought that one intends to impart.” He would also acquire The Philippines Graphic, the oldest surviving weekly English magazine of national circulation, which he acquired from Ramon Roces, the ‘King of Komiks,’ in the 1970s. 

Beyond his reputation for straightforwardness and uncompromising firmness in his legal practice, there is another facet to J. Antonio Araneta’s persona—the consummate art connoisseur. His enthusiasm for art had been nourished by his formative years in the family’s pre-war ancestral house at 1030 R. Hidalgo in pre-war Quiapo. (Note the address was used to name the previously mentioned book on the Araneta family history).

 “A Countryside Dawn” by Teodoro Buenaventura
Up for auction this June is this Teodoro Buenaventura painting called “A Countryside Dawn,” from the Don J. Antonio Araneta collection.

Growing up in the R. Hidalgo mansion meant  for J. Antonio being exposed to art and beauty all his life. His brother Salvador once described their home as having “decorative painted walls, which had been originally done by master Toribio Antillon and his pupils Modesto Reyes and Juan Arellano. The living room was done in the renacimiento style of the period. The entrance hall, the caida and my mother’s tocador were done in art nouveau while my father’s private library had Pompeian decorations.”

The formal living room of the Aranetas
The formal living room of the Aranetas in Forbes Park. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

Social historian Augusto M.R. Gonzales III best describes J. Antonio’s early exposure to art this way: “[J. Antonio Araneta] already had good taste even when he was young, which wasn’t surprising considering that their family lived in the most beautiful residence in the pre-war period along aristocratic Calle R. Hidalgo. His mother, Doña Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas de Araneta, although known for her Roman Catholic piety and simplicity, was also a woman of high style who was concerned about her dresses and her beautiful home.”

A painting by Sofronio Mendoza
A painting by Sofronio Mendoza captures the living room of the Aranetas dominated by the Amorsolo portrait of Margarita on the upper left corner. Image courtesy of Leon Gallery

R. Hidalgo Street in Quiapo in the old downtown of Manila was once deemed “the most beautiful street” in the entire city. Located near historic and towering structures such as the Gothic Revival Basilica Minore de San Sebastian and the widely famous Basilica Minore del Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, the prominence of R. Hidalgo Street was enhanced only by the presence of magnificent houses where Manila’s wealthiest once resided.

Don J. Antonio with a grandchild
Don J. Antonio with a grandchild. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

“On Calle San Sebastian, later Calle R. Hidalgo, the capital’s rich could live suitably, in high European style,” says Gonzales III. “There lived the Tuasons, very rich with their royal land grants since 1764, and their allied families, Legardas, Prietos, and Valdeses; the highly educated and cultured Paternos, rich since 1800 and very rich since the 1860s and their cousins, the entrepreneurial Zamoras and the intelligent Ocampos. There were the real estate-rich Padillas, the artistic but businesslike Nakpils, and the affluent Pampanga hacenderos, the Escalers.

“In the 1880s rose the splendid riverside community beside the Palacio de Malacañan in the adjacent San Miguel district. Great mansions rose along that stretch of the Pasig River amid lush tropical gardens with opulent interiors that rivaled those in European estates. But the pattern of elegant living was still taken from nearby Calle R. Hidalgo.”

Don J. Antonio Araneta
Don J. Antonio Araneta was known for being an uncompromising lawyer and a consummate collector. Here he is pictured with grandkids. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

The Araneta’s fabled Quiapo mansion may have faded into obscurity because of the war, but the passion for collecting art continued in J. Antonio’s palatial Forbes Park residence. Indeed, countless artworks from Luna to the modernists were displayed in his home where honorable guests like the U.S. President Nixon, numerous foreign dignitaries and movie stars, and all the country’s leaders experienced the generous hospitality of J. Antonio and Margarita. These VIPs also for sure enjoyed looking at the exceptional collection of art featuring an array of early paintings by Vicente Rivera y Mir, Jose Pereira, Dominador Castañeda, and Teodoro Buenaventura.

Araneta on a foreign trip
Araneta on a foreign trip. Photo courtesy of Leon Gallery

Part of this collection is “A Countryside Dawn,” Teodoro Buenaventura’s early work and one of the few surviving pieces after the war destroyed the bulk of the artist’s oeuvre. This painting is now among the important lots to be offered at Leon Gallery’s The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction on June 11. Once hanging on the main reception room of the Aranetas’ Forbes Park mansion, it would be featured in Manuel Duldulao’s landmark 1977 publication, “The Philippine Art Scene.”

Mr. and Mrs. J. Antonio Araneta’s sterling collection is a metaphor for the couple’s exemplary lives, with each work of art revealing a different facet to their legacies. 

(Excerpts taken from the book “1030 R. Hidalgo,” Volumes I and II.)

Co-presented by ANCX, the urban man’s guide to style and culture, The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction is happening on June 11 at 2 PM. Preview week is ongoing until June 10, 2022, from 9 AM to 7 PM. For further inquiries, email info@leon-gallery.com or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com. Follow León Gallery on their social media pages for timely content: Facebook and Instagram @leongallerymakati