Passions and Obsessions

Don Roberto T. Villanueva, the tycoon behind the priceless collection

The upcoming Kingly Treasures Auction showcases the acquisitions of this visionary industrialist and pioneering collector

Lot 127. Félix Resurrección Hidalgo - La Vache (The Cow)

Villanueva (rightmost) with President Carlos P. Garcia

A charming oil of La Vache (The Cow) by the legendary 19th-century painter Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo is one of the many treasures accumulated by the master collector, Don Roberto T. Villanueva. It’s one of the rare pieces now on the market. La Vache is unmistakably a star lot in the León Gallery year-ender, The Kingly Treasures Auction 2022, set for December 3, Saturday, 2 p.m.

Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, c. 1880s

The tycoon who built his fortune in the sugar and power industries, Villanueva had little-known a side to him: his involvement in journalism and art. After World War II, Villanueva established The Manila Chronicle. In 1949, he sold his shares to Don Eugenio Lopez, Sr. but would stay on as the newspaper’s general manager for many years. This paved the way for the cultivation of his taste in art, building a massive collection through his close friendships with the Philippines’ Neo-Realists—Hernando R. Ocampo, Vicente Manansala, and Cesar Legaspi, who either wrote or contributed their artworks to the Chronicle’s popular Sunday Magazine, This Week.

Villanueva would soon collect ceramics when it had just come into vogue, given the renewed interest in Filipino heritage. He would ultimately build one of the most comprehensive collections of Chinese and Southeast Asian trade ware discovered in the Philippines, with more than 500 pieces covering the 9th to the 19th centuries. The collection represents the different groups of covetable ceramics traded in the Philippines over a thousand years.

Confidante to many, Villanueva was a knowledgeable collector of Philippine old masters. He was a member of the board of Far East Bank & Trust, which acquired the bulk of the Juan Luna paintings bequeathed to Luna’s son, architect Andres Luna de San Pedro.

Villanueva, in his early 30s, became one of the most respected businessmen in the Philippines, a two-term president of the influential Philippine Chamber of Industries and member of the powerful Monetary Board. He was elected president of Jaycees International.

Villanueva (third from left) with pillars of the Filipino-American business community, including Washington Sycip (second from left)

By his early 40s, he had put together the biggest deal in Philippine business history to date: the acquisition of Meralco—the country’s largest power distributor—from its longtime American owners, by an all-Filipino company, Meralco Securities Corporation. Its board was composed of the titans of Philippine business and industry: Eugenio Lopez, Sr., Alfredo Montelibano, Antonio C. Delgado, Eugenio Lopez, Jr., Luz Magsaysay, Ernesto Rufino, Gen. Basilio Valdez, and Alfonso Calalang. Villanueva presided as chairman of the board, making him the historic company’s first Filipino chair.

Ten years later, Villanueva would repeat this coup. He would lead a group of Filipino investors to acquire construction giant Atlantic Gulf & Pacific (AGP) of Manila Inc. Again, Villanueva would become the company’s first Filipino chairman and CEO.

He was chairman of the Private Development Corp. of the Philippines (PDCP), an entity he organized with the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation; and also, chairman of Lepanto Exploration (Asia) Inc.

His credentials included being general manager of Philippine Portland Cement Co., Philippine Planters Investment, and Pampanga Sugar Mills Investment Co. He was director of the National Development Corporation and a member of the National Forestry Council; he was also chair of the Philippine Standards Association.

Villanueva (center) in Washington D.C. Beside him is Gerardo Sicat.

Villanueva was a member of the International Bankers Association, based in Washington D.C.; the Philippine-Japanese Economic Cooperation Committee; the Philippine-Japanese Society; and the Sugar Club of New York.

Like the man himself, the Don Roberto T. Villanueva collection of Filipino art is nothing short of legendary.

President Diosdado Macapagal welcomes Villanueva.

The Auction Preview for the León Gallery “Kingly Treasures Auctions” is ongoing at León Gallery, G/F Eurovilla I, V.A. Rufino corner Legazpi Streets, Legazpi Village, Makati City, from 9 am to 6 pm.

For more information and to browse the rest of the auction lots, visit the León Gallery website at https://leon-gallery.com/auctions/The-Kingly-Treasures-Auction-2022.


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