Salcedo Stories

Masterpieces in the Kitchen

Masterpieces in the Kitchen

  • 26 May 2021

Picture this: An expansive bungalow situated in a densely populated area of Quezon City, surrounded by a handful of trees and a growing forest of skyscrapers. Having had enough of the urban din, its residents were preparing to finally move out of what had been their childhood home. During the lengthy process of packing, labeling, and organizing, they had the idea of approaching the premier auction house’s chairman & chief specialist Richie Lerma to properly assess and inspect all the remaining antiques and furniture that they had decided not to put into storage. These, after all, were the remnants of the joyous days they had spent inside this house— pieces of tangible history accumulated over the decades.

If the specialist’s appraisal turned out well, the family had hoped to put the pieces up for sale at Salcedo Auctions.

On a sunny and rather humid afternoon, Lerma prepared himself to view decorative pieces— perhaps some interesting furniture, sterling silver, porcelain, or at most, a few fine art prints. He was certainly not expecting to encounter anything exceedingly important. Prior to his visit, the family had already informed him that an international auction house had appraised and sold most of the significant artworks in their home in the 80’s— long before Salcedo Auctions opened in 2010.

Once inside, Lerma carefully walked through each room— scanning the areas and zeroing in on the items that caught his expertly trained eye. There were a few initial surprises – seminal Arturo Luz drawings, and a striking early tempera on paper by National Artist Ang Kiukok depicting churches. As he walked through the kitchen, he immediately spotted two simple, wooden box framed paintings hanging right above an intricately carved buffet table. Though the once vibrant colors had slightly dulled from years of accumulated soot and dust, Lerma immediately knew he was looking at a pair of 1950’s paintings by National Artist Jose Joya. Perhaps these were overlooked because of their unassuming placement?, he thought to himself.

Needless to say, the paintings were taken down from the wall at once and flipped on their backs for further examination. Straightaway, Lerma noticed that not only one— but both paintings bore identical labels that revealed their origins— the legendary Philippine Art Gallery (PAG).

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JOSE JOYA, ‘Pastures’, 1958, Oil on board from the ‘Important Philippine Art’ auction, March 2014

JOSE JOYA, ‘Sea Wall’, 1958, Oil on canvas board from the from the ‘Important Philippine Art: The Evening Sale’ auction, September 2014

The news came as a delightful shock to the family who were, at best, expecting to unload a handful of furniture and possibly a few objets d’art. Little did they know that such rare and sublime masterpieces remained in their midst— even having their meals in front of these paintings daily!

The Philippine Art Gallery

Now you may be wondering— why would those PAG labels be important? To explain this part, we need to back track to Manila in the 1950s, when the Philippine modern art movement was still in its infancy.

Today’s National Artists, Joya being one of them, did not always revel in public adulation and enjoy art market popularity. In fact, at the time, there were those who would go so far as to say that the works of the moderns were unattractive— even vulgar! Hardly anyone purchased the works of the vanguard artists we now consider as masters.

It was foremost the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG) that gave these artists a shot— an avenue to explore their artistry and showcase their work. The PAG championed the cause of modern art despite the movement’s unpopularity. Led by writer and artist Lyd Arguilla, the PAG was much more than an exhibition space— it was a resource center, a place for artists’ socials, and most importantly, a gallery that welcomed all things novel, creative, and bold.

Kitchen Finds

The moment Lerma mentioned the PAG, it was almost as if something clicked in the memory of the current head of the family.

He began to share that his mother, an American expatriate who adored the Philippine art scene, frequented the PAG in its heyday. She had been a very early patron of the arts, eventually filling their home with the works of art she had collected through the years. As luck would have it, the purchases she made over five decades ago in support of a young Joya to the tune of Php 150 each had now become an immensely valuable object that would be put up for auction and sell at record prices at the Important Philippine Art auctions in September 2014 and March 2015.

ANG KIUKOK, Untitled (Churches), 1957, Tempera on paper from the ‘Important Philippine Art’ auction, March 2014

Many among us love to collect, and attach a lot of sentimental value to the objects in our surroundings. As heirloom pieces acquired and passed on by loved ones, it is not uncommon that their historic and economic value is often overlooked. It comes as no surprise then that this storied family had been living with two Joyas right under their noses!

Who knows, you might just have an important work of art in your own home – perhaps a piece you’ve grown so accustomed to without knowing its true worth beyond the emotional— a masterpiece in your midst!

The next valuable find could indeed be yours. Drop us a line— we would be delighted to pop in for a (for now, virtual) visit, or send us clear photos! We are currently accepting notable pieces to be offered at our upcoming auctions in July and September. Click here to make a confidential obligation-free appointment or consignment offer, or send an email to [email protected].