Masterpieces Among Us: The Thrill of Discovering Important Philippine Art & Furniture
- 30 March 2021
Salcedo Auctions began with a bold dream― one that sprung from a profound resolve to push Philippine art forward. This is why, twice a year, an entire sale remains dedicated to the works of significant Filipino visual artists and artisans— the old and modern masters, and the country’s leading contemporary artists. Indeed, who else but the country’s premier auction house would be in a position to name its marquee sale Important Philippine Art?
As one can imagine, the exceptional works of art that have been consigned to this sale over the past decade have come from far and wide, with pieces being sourced not just in the country but also across the seas.
What few people know about, however, are the thrilling stories that accompany the fascinating finds at Salcedo— tales that we’ve collected and tucked away for safekeeping, until now.
In anticipation of our forthcoming Important Philippine Art sale on Saturday, 13 March, join us for a stroll through our art archives as we dust off some of our favorite tales.
A Family Inheritance
A certain Visayan province rich with fields of sugarcane is home to many affluent families. Traditionally, generations would share in a single ancestral home, which is not an uncommon scenario given the high regard Filipinos have for the bonds of family.
These ancestral homes, often spacious and well-appointed, are veritable treasure troves of history and culture. Inside, grandparents, their children, and even their great grandchildren live under one roof. Should members of the family move to other provinces or migrate abroad, the ancestral home remains, at the very least, as the place they return to for reunions.
Such was the case for one particular family who sought the expertise of Salcedo Auctions in 2015.
Following the death of the family patriarch, the children were left with an inheritance of paintings— fantastic works of art made by National Artists Jose Joya, Ang Kiukok, and Vicente Manansala, just to name a few.
In broad strokes, Philippine law requires 50% of the deceased’s assets to go to his or her spouse, while the remaining 50% must be split up amongst all the remaining heirs. This is further apportioned should the heirs no longer be around, leaving in-laws and children entitled to claims. Now, here’s where the challenge lay— all the parties involved were now living in different parts of the world. But, in order to put all the inherited paintings up for auction, each and every heir had to unanimously agree on a reserve price (the reserve price refers to the lowest price at which the work of art can be sold) for each painting that was consigned.
To get everyone to come to the table, Salcedo Auctions stepped in to organize a series of concurrent meetings across various time zones. Just picture trying to coordinate an online meeting with busy attendees of varying professions and temperaments from all over the world! Though the negotiations and planning proved to be a Herculean task, it was one that Salcedo Auctions was well-equipped to face, providing its expert opinion, not to mention a good measure of tact and diplomacy to get everyone to sign the consignment contract.
Once all the fine details were ironed out, the works of art went on public display and then on to auction. When the final bids were hammered in, needless to say, there was rejoicing in various cities around the globe as all the paintings in the estate far exceeded their estimated prices.
JOSE JOYA, “Yellow Image”, 1963, Oil on canvas. Sold at the Important Philippine Art: The Evening Sale auction, September 2014
One sibling proposed that this painting by National Artist Jose Joya be put up for auction at an international auction house instead. In the end, Salcedo Auctions was able to convince the family to keep it in the country. It was eventually sold at a much higher price than what was proposed by the overseas house.
LEE AGUINALDO, “Linear No. 5”, 1965, Acrylic on board. Sold at the Important Philippine Art auction, March 2015
Our Chairman and Chief Specialist Richie Lerma quite literally stumbled upon this painting when he was invited to the family’s ancestral home. After pointing it out, one family member was incredulous, saying, “That has value? I just thought it was a piece of painted plywood! I was going to have it thrown out!” This Lee Aguinaldo was unframed and haphazardly propped against a wall in an unused office in the ancestral home. It was sold at the Important Philippine Art auction in March 2015 for Php 3,504,000.
With all the paintings sold, Salcedo Auctions even took care of judiciously apportioning the share of the proceeds to each of the beneficiaries, thereby helping settle the affairs of this storied haciendero family.
The Fish that Almost Got Away
The 1980’s― an era marked by rapid change and the stirrings of globalization ushered in a renewed appreciation for art in the country. Then as now, The Manila Peninsula (presently The Peninsula Manila), commonly referred to as “The Pen,” was the place to be.
The Pen served as a hub for culture and the arts and was where many social events, exhibitions, and galas took place.
One day, a budding lawyer was invited to an art exhibition at the hotel’s third floor gallery space when a piece on display caught his eye. It was a vibrant work of art in hues of blue and white depicting a fish, painted by a Chinese-Filipino figurative expressionist artist who was then at the cusp of fame― Ang Kiukok. Without giving it a second thought, the client went ahead and made a purchase that, little did he know, would be a catch that would multiply many a thousandfold a few decades later.
Over thirty years after it was originally purchased for Php 26,000, and having read about burgeoning art prices, the client decided to invite Salcedo Auctions to his office where it hung behind his secretary’s desk, curious if his painting had increased in value at all.
This was when he met our Chairman and Chief Specialist, Richie Lerma, for the first time. To his shock and delight, Lerma proposed a reserve price of Php 3,000,000, something which Lerma himself explained was on the very conservative side, as a consideration for potential buyers. Already greatly satisfied with the return on his painting, the client offered to sell it to Salcedo Auctions right there and then!
But Lerma politely declined out of propriety, knowing that it could sell for far more, urging the elderly gentleman to offer it at auction instead so that he could fully enjoy the upside on the sale of his Kiukok.
That Important Philippine Art sale was the first auction that this client had ever attended. His mobility at this point was reduced by ill health, so he asked his children to bring him to the sale room in a wheelchair. His exhilaration at witnessing the theatrical setting and drama of the auction soon gave way to shock and bewilderment as a torrent of bids came in for his artwork.
In the end, Ang Kiukok’s “White Fish in Blue” sold for Php 18,220,880 (inclusive of buyer’s premium). As soon as the gavel fell, the client, overwhelmed at the result, asked to be wheeled out of the auction space to collect himself! Who would have thought that an impulse buy would lead to this moment of absolute joy decades later?
Historic Tables Hiding in Plain Sight
Sometimes, the old furniture that you’ve grown up with holds hidden histories that may surprise you. For our two final tales, we talk about cultural gems that hid in plain sight for years, both of which happened to be grand dining tables.
Some say that personal belongings are what make a home. But, it’s also just as likely that one can grow so used to these pieces that they become invisible, and we don’t think twice about their origin or value.
Such was the case with this dining table that came from the illustrious Padilla family’s ancestral home in the Quiapo district. Upon further inspection, our furniture specialists discovered that this same dining set was crafted by one of National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal’s dear friends, Maximo Viola, the very same person who lent Rizal funds to publish the Noli Me Tangere.
The other side of Viola’s renown is perhaps not as well known― except within the country’s most elite, ilustrado circles at the turn of the century. He was a byword for luxury bespoke furniture. In fact, Viola received numerous awards at expositions for working with the rarest and most precious of Philippine hardwoods, foremost of which was kamagong. Bidding for the table opened at Php 600,000 and a volley of raised paddles and telephone bidding, it eventually sold at Php 4,672,000 (inclusive of buyer’s premium) at the Important Philippine Art sale in March 2020!
Before we end our art trip down memory lane, we have to share the story of a find that has been the stuff of table talk ever since it was consigned in 2017.
The descendants of an ilustrado family had this solid molave desk transferred from their old ancestral home, not realizing its true value. Because of its sheer weight and size (it could easily seat 14 people!) the table was sent to the family’s office in Quezon City. Owing to its size, it was decided to relegate it to the office cafeteria so that the staff could eat together during breaks. At night, the table would even be converted into a makeshift bed by the family’s caretaker!
A dining table, 1st quarter, 20th century, Narra, Molave, Kamagong wood
This lay in wait for years, a dazzling gem just waiting to be rediscovered. It was finally brought to Salcedo Auctions and sold at the Important Philippine Art sale as part of The Well-Appointed Life in September of 2017 for Php 5,840,000 (including buyer’s premium)
As it turns out, the dining table had been originally commissioned by the family during the early American colonial period. During this time, some of the best finely crafted furniture in the country came from a rehabilitation project at the Bilibid Prisons that functioned to help integrate inmates back into society. These were the very same wood carvers who made the furniture for Malacañang Palace!
Transporting this table to The Peninsula Manila was no simple feat. Made of solid hardwood, it took over 10 people to move it; and because of its sheer width it would not even fit through the hotel’s front entrance.
In fact, the table proved to be so difficult to move that it was only put on display in the Rigodon Ballroom on the morning of the auction. But that didn’t discourage the bidders! With a starting price of Php 600,000 it became the subject of an intense bidding battle, with the gavel eventually falling at an impressive Php 5,000,000. Talk about Salcedo discovering a goldmine!
The stories we’ve shared here are just a few snapshots that we’ve taken from our storied Important Philippine Art auctions, so keep an eye out for more tales to treasure from our archives! To give you an idea about other pieces we’ve consigned in the past, take a look at this album below.