National Museum requests to put on hold auction of Juan Luna bronze bust
MANILA, Philippines — The National Museum of the Philippines has urged auction house Salcedo Auctions to stop auctioning off the historical bronze bust of Juan Luna.
In a letter sent to Salcedo Auctions chairperson Richie Lerma dated September 8 but made public Thursday, National Museum director-general Jeremy Burns asked that the sale of the bust be put on hold, as it is an important surviving artifact of the destruction of the Battle of Manila in 1945.
“The Bust of Juan Luna has been lost since the destruction of virtually all the collections of the then National Library and National Museum in February 1945 but the view has been held among some people that it may well have survived, given that it was made of bronze,” Burns said.
The bust is scheduled to be auctioned off on September 16.
Burns likewise requested to hold the auction of the figure and has opened the possibility of its recovery.
“As such may we request that Salcedo Auctions put the sale of Lot 39, Bust of Juan Luna y Novicio by Mariano Benlliure, on hold, and that we discuss the matter further at the soonest opportunity. If this is indeed a case where the object is lost public property, then I am sure you agree that it must somehow be recovered by the government through appropriate and hopefully amicable means and that your support and cooperation in such an endeavor would be vital,” Burns added.
The bust was created from a mold by Spanish sculptor Mariano Benlliure, a friend of Luna, through a commission from Vicente Palmori, the former Consul General of Spain. It was later given to Philippine Governor-General Leonard Wood and was placed at the then-Philippine Library and Museum in Quiapo.
According to the catalog of Salcedo Auctions, the bust was later found by a junk collector after the battle of Manila and was later sold for five pesos to a junk dealer. The junk dealer then sold the figure to artist Elsie Cadapan, who sold it to the East Asia Corporation for Arts and Antiquities.
However, another bust origin story started with a pushcart vendor who found the bust after the Battle of Manila, with which he sold it to Ireneo Cristobal, a sculptor of religious articles. Salcedo Auctions is uncertain which story is true and if Cristobal sold it to Cadapan.
Another Luna bust, a plaster-painted bronze also created by Benlliure, is also currently owned by the University of Santo Tomas Museum and was formerly owned by Alfredo Ongpin. It is currently displayed with the long-lost Luna painting Hymen, oh Hyménée at the Ayala Museum until December 31.