Salcedo Stories

A Feminist Masterpiece by Hidalgo Sets New World Record in 9 Minutes

A Feminist Masterpiece by Hidalgo Sets New World Record in 9 Minutes

  • 21 September 2019

Salcedo Auction’s highly anticipated social and auction event, The Well-Appointed Life, is known to be a trusted source for some of the country’s finest and rarest artworks, heirlooms, and priceless collectibles. But this past September 21st at the Peninsula Manila, the auction house set a new standard that sent shockwaves among art lovers and historians alike. Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s ‘La Pintura,’ —a captivating and beautiful depiction of a woman caught in the middle of artistic expression sold for an unprecedented Php 78M in 9 minutes. The record was previously held by an artwork sold in 2018 by Spanish auction house Subastas Segre, “Pareja de jóvenes tagalos ante un rio,” for P51,600,122.

SAStories-2019-0921-A Feminist Masterpiece-01

Félix Resurrección Hidalgo ‘La Pintura’ Undated (c. 1890s) Oil on canvas

“The choice of a woman relates to the title of the work.’ La Pintura,’ Spanish for ‘painting’ is a feminine noun, a reference to the acts of conception, creation, and birthing which is what art making is about,” explains Richie Lerma, Salcedo Auction’s chairman and chief-specialist. “It is also in keeping with the rise of modernism in the 19th century and a more progressive and liberal view of the emerging role of women in society. Note that the woman— usually associated with ‘smaller’ artisanal crafts such as miniatures and embroidery—stands in front of a canvas that is larger than her, symbolizing her capacity to achieve great things.”

The subject’s face is turned away from the viewer to underscore the fact that the painting is about ‘La Pintura,’ the painting and the act of creation, rather than ‘la pintora,’ the woman painter. The mystery of her identity is also tied to Salcedo Auction’s theory regarding the ‘hidden’ nature of the artist’s relationship with the subject. Note that the artist is known to have had a mistress-muse who by all accounts does not appear to be the woman depicted in ‘La Pintura’. The elegant woman is believed to be Nellie Boustead, the Filipina-British mestiza that captivated Jose Rizal. While there is no documentation that it is in indeed her, several photographs and letters from the period show that indeed Boustead, Hidalgo, Antonio Luna, and Rizal were in the same expatriate circle and that she was a recipient of their collective admiration.

Nellie Boustead

A photo of Nellie Boustead (third from left) with Jose Rizal, Paz Pardo de Tavera, Félix Resurrección Hidalgo, Adelina Boustead and a friend, 1889.

It is indeed a ravishing picture—described by those who laid eyes on it at the Peninsula Manila as simply ‘mesmerizing.’ In 1893, the painting was exhibited as part of the Philippine pavilion (Sala XIII) at the Exposición Histórico-Natural y Etnográfica at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid. It was listed in the exhibition catalogue together with another well-known auction record-breaking work: Juan Luna’s ‘boceto for the Spoliarium.’

Installation view of the Philippine exhibition (Sala XIII) of the 1893 Exposición Histórico-Natural y Etnográfica at the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid that shows Hidalgo’s ‘La Pintura’

Hidalgo’s ‘La Pintura’ together with Luna’s boceto for Spoliarium are listed among the pieces in the Sala de Filipinas

This was the first time ‘La Pintura’ was put on view for the public before she would eventually disappear into private hands for the next 120 years. Several generations would pass before she would eventually make it to the Philippines, Hidalgo’s home and, by extension, hers. And what a well-appointed welcome it has been.