Luna the Lover
- 16 November 2021
Photographs offer a rare glimpse of people, places, feelings, and stories that connect us to the past. These shots yield information that is rich not only in historical terms, but also holds sentimental if not conjectural value. An extremely rare historical photograph being offered at the Under the Tree: The Wish List auction on Saturday, 27 November serves as a reminder of the rich and cosmopolitan lifestyle of the Filipino expatriate ilustrado class during the Spanish colonial era in the late 19th century. Moreover, the image vividly brings to light what appears to be an enamored Antonio Luna who is seated beside the reputed object of his affections, the enchanting French-English-Filipino mestiza, Nellie Boustead. Other identified subjects in the photograph include Boustead’s younger sister Adelina and another Filipino ilustrado, Pedro Paterno.
Luna was not the only ilustrado mesmerized by Boustead, as she was said to have been courted by Dr. José Rizal. Although the relationship did not last, a letter written by Bousted to Rizal was discovered wishing her former beloved happiness and success in his endeavours. Most historians agree that both Luna and Rizal, who were friends, were captivated by Boustead’s grace, manner and pedigree. The rumored ‘love triangle’ that involved two of the country’s heroes is one filled with tales of romance and intrigue that has been a source of fascination and debate for many.
The facts surrounding the duel by sword that Luna proposed to fantastic and mythical proportions indicate that it has become a challenge to separate history from legend. Many believed that alcohol played a big part in an altercation, which ended in the challenge. It is said that after Luna sobered up, his brother, the famous painter Juan, told Antonio he owed their mutual compadre a vigorous apology. On behalf of his brother, Juan wrote a letter of apology to Rizal from France in August 1890. Eventually months later Antonio also followed up with a letter to Rizal giving his blessing to court Boustead exclusively.
Interestingly, Boustead does not smile or pay any attention to Jose Rizal or Antonio Luna in any of the photos where they are together. Back in the early years of photography, it was not the practice to smile, and it was even common to look away from the lens. That hasn’t stopped the flood of further speculations that – alas – she didn’t like either Rizal or Luna! A handful of famous historical group photos exist today, which show the same circle of ilustrados that include Boustead and Rizal, including a few taken in Juan Luna’s studio. Notably, both Lunas are absent in those photos. So this begs the question, who was it who took these photos?
This is not the first time that either of the two primary subjects in this photograph made their way into the halls of Salcedo Auctions. In 2019, the world record-breaking sale of Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s La Pintura brought into focus the possible inspiration for the woman seen in the painting. Boustead, a member of an elite circle of Filipino ilustrados who lived in France at the time, bore features and wore the style of dress that matched the lady in Hidalgo’s masterpiece. In a more recent edition of the annual The Well Appointed Life auction, a Revolutionary receipt signed by Luna was also auctioned off.
The whispers of society only grow louder with the resurfacing of this original photograph, the only one believed to be in existence. Whatever the truth may be regarding the relationship of these two famous personages, this image provides a window into, and a tantalizing aspect of the interwoven lives of the personalities that helped shape the birth of a nation.
See this compelling photograph together with the over 240 lots on offer at the ‘Under The Tree: The Wish List’ auction, which takes place live and online on Saturday, 27 November 2021 at 2pm. Click here to view the catalogue, and to register to bid!