Last seen in public 132 years ago in Paris, the long-lost Juan Luna painting “Hymen, oh Hyménée!”, considered by many art collectors as the holy grail of Philippine art, was revealed for the first time ever in the Philippines to select guests on Friday, June 9, as the centerpiece of Ayala Museum’s new exhibition, Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero. This exhibition is mounted with the cooperation of León Gallery.
A national treasure of enormous importance
1884 to 1889 were halcyon years for artist Juan Luna. He was living in Paris after his well-known painting Spoliarium won a gold medal at the 1884 Exposición Nacional del Bellas Artes in Madrid. It was a period filled with artistic achievement, joy, and love, culminating with his personal composition Hymen, oh Hyménée! winning a bronze medal in the prestigious Exposition Universelle of 1889, the exciting world’s fair, a precursor of the new normal at the end of the 19th century, defined by the iconic Eiffel Tower.
It was also here that Luna reached the peak of his renown with this piece, since this triumph would catapult him indubitably into the league of ‘master painters’, cementing his standing in the world’s artistic capital.
Once again confirming his undeniable genius and artistry in the face of racial bias, Juan Luna’s victories, to quote historian Ambeth R. Ocampo, Ph.D., “produced a groundswell of pride in (his) countrymen that resonates to our times with Lea Salonga’s triumph on the West End and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s conquest of World Boxing and last but not the least, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz bringing home the first Olympic Gold to a proud and grateful nation.”
Find of the century
The quest for Hymen, oh Hyménée! by art collector Jaime Ponce de Leon of León Gallery was first a dream, and then later an obsession, that found him following leads and clues across Europe for close to 10 years. The dream was fulfilled when he finally acquired the legendary artwork in 2014, but it sat in a crate in his storeroom waiting for the perfect moment for its revelation.
In 2022, thanks to extraordinary circumstances that led to an unprecedented long-term loan to Ayala Museum, that perfect time had come with the commemoration of the 125th Anniversary of Philippine Independence and Nationhood in 2023.