An idyllic Anita Magsaysay-Ho from the collection of a banking powerhouse—the eminent Dee K. Chiong, former chairman and president of China Banking Corporation, one of the Philippines’ leading banks—and one that would eventually be lovingly gifted to his loyal and devoted secretary, is the highlight of León Gallery’s The Kingly Treasures Auction 2023, happening December 2, Saturday, at 2 pm.
“An Anita Magsaysay-Ho is always a significant part of any auction,” León Gallery director Jaime Ponce de Leon writes in the catalog foreword.
“This particular Anita is from the collection of the taipan Dee K. Chiong, president and chairman of the country’s first Filipino-Chinese bank. It would be a gift from his wife Regina to Mr. Dee’s loyal secretary of almost 20 years. This particular Anita was exhibited twice at the Philippine Art Gallery in 1957 and is in its official records as owned by Mr. Dee.”
That loyal secretary was none other than Leticia B. Lucas (1941–2002).
Lucas, who earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Commerce from the University of Santo Tomas, “would have the good fortune of landing a job with the president of China Bank as soon as she graduated from college,” León Gallery curator Lisa Guerrero-Nakpil writes.
“It would be the role of a lifetime, since she would work at the bank for nearly 20 years, 17 of those reporting to Mr. Dee K. Chiong,” Guerrero-Nakpil further writes.
There’s this interesting story about Leticia’s first days as Mr. Dee’s secretary, one that put her patience—and eventually, her loyalty—to the test.
Guerrero-Nakpil recounts in writing: “Mrs. Lucas would reminisce that in her first days as Mr. Dee’s secretary, he asked her to purchase materials from a hardware store in Binondo. The owner offered her a commission by raising the cost of the items. She refused. Mr. Dee told her later that he asked the owner to test her work ethic. She was furious and attempted to resign. Mr. Dee had to explain to her that he put all his employees to the test to see who was worth keeping. Since then, Mr. Dee and his wife Regina trusted her implicitly and treated her as one of the family.”
Mr. Dee and his wife, Regina, would also become close friends with Leticia, forming an amicable bond that went beyond the confines of business. According to Guerrero-Nakpil, Mr. Dee was a major sponsor at Leticia’s wedding to businessman Rolando Lucas; his son and wife were also to be godparents of Leticia’s daughter, as well. Leticia would even bring her children to the office to spend their summer afternoons there. Mrs. Dee, on the other hand, would take them to their dental appointments.
When Mr. Dee died, Regina continued to be a woman of blessing to Leticia. She often sent fruits and food to the Lucas family’s home and became a mentor and guide to Leticia when she set up her small business of re-upholstering furniture and “pointed many clients her way,” as Guerrero-Nakpil puts it.
But perhaps the singular testament to the Dee couple’s unwavering debt of gratitude to Leticia was their gifting of their precious 1957 Anita Magsaysay-Ho. Regina gave Leticia the beautiful Magsaysay-Ho piece, saying that it would hold great value in the future.
And just as Regina had seemingly prophesied, that very Anita Magsaysay-Ho piece now holds the distinction of being the major highlight of León Gallery’s year-end offering, The Kingly Treasures Auction.
Guerrero-Nakpil writes of this precious Anita: “For this work, Anita Magsaysay-Ho plumbed the depths of her happiest childhood memories. The centerpiece was the work Harvesters. It would actually appear twice on the walls of the Philippine Art Gallery: first as the Harvesters, as part of the 6th anniversary show of the PAG on August 24, 1957, and then again for Magsaysay-Ho’s solo exhibit, which opened on November 30, 1957.”
“The book 7 Years of the Philippine Art Gallery (1951 -1957), produced by the PAG in 1958, would list Dee Kee Chiong as the owner of Harvesters. It would be in his collection when he passed, and his wife, the beauteous Regina Dee, would give it as a gift to his devoted secretary Leticia B. Lucas a few years later.”
Harvesters also marked Magsaysay-Ho’s landmark 1957 exhibition at the legendary Philippine Art Gallery, her long-awaited comeback after an absence of four years. That same exhibition would also reveal Magsaysay-Ho’s penetrating nostalgia for her Zambales summers.
Harvesters was even featured in the influential This Week Magazine, gracing its storied pages as the lead illustration under the headline “A New Group of Paintings by Anita Magsaysay-Ho.”
In the work at hand, Magsaysay-Ho pays homage to her idyllic childhood summer vacations in Zambales. In her book An Artist’s Memoirs, Magsaysay-Ho evocatively reminisces of her cherished Zambales summers as a little girl.
“Each summer vacation brought the exciting trip to Zambales,” the artist recalls. “My Nana (grandmother) and I would take the two-day journey by sea from Manila to the port of Subic. My mother, with my sister and brother, would follow later. They usually headed for San Marcelino, my father’s hometown.
“I thank my parents for bringing us to Zambales,” Magsaysay-Ho continues. “These scenes of my childhood are so vivid in my mind: women pounding rice, winding our way back to town in the dusk after the picnic, the oil lamp-lit windows of the nipa huts sparkling like fireflies in the dark. Had I never holidayed in Zambales, I do not think I would have the depth of impressions which I subconsciously draw upon with so much fondness and passion when I paint.”
Guerrero-Nakpil writes in the catalog entry for Harvesters: “Harvesters, the work at hand, takes place in the mountains of Zambales, in the lush green fields between San Antonio and San Marcelino, the hometown of Ambrosio Magsaysay and his mother and aunts. One of them was married to Don Ambrosio’s half-brother, Juan Rodriguez, and he possessed an even vaster tract of land called Dalanawan, which rolled over several small hills at the foot of Mt. Pinatubo. This was the kingdom of the Aetas, and Anita’s Tio Juanito was named Governor of the area.
“It is easy to imagine that this painting was set in Dalanawan: Anita would remember climbing the hills to look down ‘on the lovely scenery’ below. It is a gold and pink-streaked dawn of an eternal summer. A grove of banana trees are bursting with their fruit, so many and so lush that they keep an entire family busy gathering the bounty into sacks. A man trundles one bundle while a woman, her son, and daughter, are busy with more of this cornucopia,” Guerrero-Nakpil concludes.
The Kingly Treasures Auction is happening this December 2, 2023, 2 pm, at Eurovilla 1, Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City. Preview week is from November 25 to December 1, 2023, from 9 am to 7 pm. For further inquiries, email [email protected] or contact tel. no. 8856-2781. To browse the catalog, visit www.leon-gallery.com.
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