Last weekend’s sale of Don Pedro Paterno’s collection of works and belongings struck gold to become that holy grail of auctions, “the white glove sale.” In auction world parlance, “white glove” means each and every lot was sold. And the selling—which lasted more than five hours—was frenzied from the moment the bidding opened.
The auction set several world records. Its success signaled the entry of Paterno into the auction pantheon inhabited primarily by Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo whose letters alone rise to the eye-watering seven-figures. “Perhaps there will now be a complete re-evaluation of Paterno as a hero,” remarked Jaime Ponce de Leon, director or León Gallery. “And perhaps he now belongs in the ranks of the rightful heroes of the Philippines.”
Leading the slew of prized sales was the ‘Portrait of Luisa Piñyero y Merino,’ which captures the image of Paterno’s beloved wife as a lady on a bamboo chair. The painting leapt to P18.7 million (hammer plus premium.) and Ponce de Leon dubbed it a world record for commissioned portraits by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. A smaller portrait, also by Hidalgo, of Don Pedro himself as a young man just graduated from the Universidad Central de Madrid, sparked another round of bidding and finally landed at P17.5 million.
A terracotta bust of Don Pedro, by Mariano Benlliure, Spain’s greatest 19th century sculptor who also happened to be a personal friend of Paterno reaped P2.8 million. This was the second highest price achieved for Benlliure but a world record for the artist nevertheless for a table-top sculpture this size. Ponce de Leon announced to the auction crowd that the winning bidder would be donating the work to the National Museum of the Philippines. Paterno, after all, was the first Filipino director of the both the National Museum and the National Library of the Philippines, appointed by Spanish royal decree.
Also reaching new benchmarks were sumptuous artworks from the Paterno collection: The whimsical sculpture “La Sampaguita” depicting a willowy vendedora, with raven hair sweeping down to her ankles, draped in a jasmine garland and scapulario, by Rosendo Martinez went for P1.4 Million, a world record for the artist. Yet another milestone was set for an Isabelina cabinet covered on three sides with Philippine landscapes by Esteban Villanueva y Vinarao. This fetched another high for the artist at P2.6 Million. Paterno is the poet of the first Filipino book of poetry to be published in Spain, titled “Sampaguitas.”
The cause of Philippine photography was borne aloft as well at the Ilustrado auction, with a single photograph of Paterno’s sister Jacoba leapfrogging to almost P400,000. Only one other copy exists and that is in the Spanish National Archives.
Photographs of an intense-looking Juan Luna and an extremely rare photo of the 1893 Exposition, which captured most of the treasures in the auction, hit up to P300,000 each. A pink velvet album, trimmed in gilt and containing portraits of the Paterno family brought in P650,000.
Meanwhile, a highly unusual piña panuelo to be worn with ‘traje de mestiza’ ensembles of the rich and famous of the 1800s took home an astounding P152,000; alongside a collection of handwritten Paterno family recipes for croquetas, bacalao, and other ilustrado delicacies, which went for P160,000.
Collectors of letters and other ephemera had a field day over the assembled lots, which included a copy of a trade treaty between the Queen of Spain and the Emperor of China as well as important documents relating to the Cavite Mutiny of 1872.
Book lovers were exhilarated enough to bid enthusiastically as well. An extremely rare pair of pamphlets on the organization of the landmark Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas zoomed to P600,000.
A copy of “Ninay”, the first Filipino novel and written by Pedro Paterno fetched P2 million; while an advance copy of Rizal’s “Annotations to Morga’s Sucesos” made another world record for this work at P3.8 million. Rizal had dedicated and signed the book and pressed within it were original pages from Morga’s 17th-century work along with Paterno’s handwritten notes on pre-Spanish Filipino history.
Books from Paterno’s Salamanca and Ateneo de Madrid library were also auctioned, assuring the shelves of their new owners that much more literary cachet.
The next León Gallery auction is The Magnificent September Auction scheduled for Saturday, September 10. For more information, visit this link.
Photographs by Patrick Diokno