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The spirited reunion at Leon Gallery auction

Asian Cultural Council friends, arts lovers relish the priceless past in the reopening present

From the auction, Fernando Amorsolo (1892 - 1972), A Typical Filipina Beauty. Signed and dated Manila, 1926 (lower left) (oil on wood, 14" x 10" (36 cm x 25 cm))

Very rare and important letter from José Rizal to his sister Maria Rizal, signed by José Rizal dated Dapitan, 28 August 1895. Written in Tagalog (two sheets, with writing on three sides, pen and ink on graph paper 8 1/4 “ x 5 1/4” (21 x 13 cm))

Ernest Escaler, Makati Mayor Abigail Binay and Alice Eduardo at the ACC auction

Photos courtesy of Leon Gallery

We have attended with anticipation several art auction viewings, both here and abroad, but this particular one exuded a distinct vibe.

Propelled by jovial friends and more-than-just-acquaintances being physically together for the first time in two years, there was genuine optimism all around. There was a series of surprising explosions of feel-good cheers, all this in spite of the presence of face masks and the observance of social distancing. There was positive ambiance, to the point that the works of art—paintings, sculptures and other valuable items—had an intensified take-me-home look.

It could be none other than the Leon Gallery Fine Art & Antiques Auction Viewing, a grand annual gathering for a cause, the beneficiary being the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), a nonprofit organization which aims to advance cultural exchange between Asia and the US.

“Through its existence, ACC has been continuously pursuing active ways in raising funds to help talented and deserving artists. Along the way, a sense of commitment is forged and shared as new connections are built and many more chooses to join in the cause of giving,” said ACC Philippines chairman Ernest Escaler in a statement.

This year also marks the 60th anniversary of the ACC and the 22nd for the ACC Philippines.

The extensive impressive selection of sterling heirlooms and heritage pieces could only be put together by Jaime Ponce de Leon and his dedicated team, spearheaded by Lisa Guerrero Nakpil, with consultants, management and inventory and the gallery support teams.

Curious eyes were definitely treated to a feast due to rare finds from the estate of Nene Tuason Quimson.

So many of her traveling friends, who were visitors to her many properties in the United Kingdom, the US and the Philippines, where everyone enjoyed her generous hospitality, gracious entertainment, have seen these very obras in the interior walls of her abodes and enjoyed continued exposure to these excellent artworks through the years.

Among the jewels I significantly recall is Juan Luna’s Odalisca, created during his time in Rome—in the same period that eventually led to his obra maestra the Spoliarium.

Another collection to behold belonged to the estate of Benito J. Legarda, Jr., who had an extreme passion for history and heritage, culture and arts, whose works continue to be referenced by scholars to this day.

This time around, exhibited were his prized Santo Niños in glass cases and wood carvings and reliefs, with the standout being the ivory statue of San Antonio.

We were pleasantly shocked to see the very letters that Jose Rizal wrote to his devoted mother and caring sister, while in Hong Kong and his exile in Dapitan.

And it did not end there. Leon Gallery showcased an eclectic selection of other masterpieces.

We were in awe of Juan Luna’s obras, inspired by his stay in Rome, while we admired the laid-back rural scenes of Fernando Amorsolo. Our eyes popped at the works of Hernando Ocampo and his signature eye for vibrant colors and Jose Joya’s playful blue palettes.

The mystifying abstractions of Arturo Luz and portraits of the BenCab provided us refreshing contrasts, while Oscar Zalameda’s sophisticated cubist aesthetic and Juvenal Sanso’s nostalgic oil creations harkened to poetic sceneries.

Not to be forgotten were Anita Magsaysay-Ho and her depiction of hardworking Filipinas and the soft portraits and sentimental floral paintings of Betsy Westendorp Brias.

The A-Class event was made more special by the services of the go-to caterer of choice of Manila’s elite, La Tasca with Marilou Senn at the helm, with their picas of all the best quality. We would be remiss if we did not mention that even the old-time waiters and tenured servers recognized us, for they have always been with the business through the years.

The uplifting mood, coupled with the sought-after and coveted pieces, compounded by amiable and proficient caterers all contributed to the most memorable first auction of Leon Gallery for 2022—a heartwarming reunion of sorts and all for a good cause!

About author


He was with the Department of Tourism for 33 years, with assignments in Los Angeles and London, where he served as regional director for the Americas and Europe, respectively. To date, he has visited almost 100 countries and territories. He is member of the board at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde and director of the Filipino Heritage Festival, among others. He writes regular columns on exemplary individuals and travelogues.

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