Once thought lost to the world, the Ayala Museum, in collaboration with León Gallery, unveiled historic Filipino painter Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece.
Unseen for over 100 years, the work Hymen, oh Hyménée! was unveiled in the country for the first time, just in time for the 125th year of Philippine independence.
Known to art collectors as “the grail of Philippine art,” the artwork vanished from public view 132 years ago, last seen at the illustrious Universal Exposition in Paris, where the Eiffel Tower also made its dazzling debut. Since then, it remained concealed in private hands, becoming the stuff of legends.
The Ayala Museum now presents an immersive exhibition centered solely on this remarkable artwork, titled “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero.” The exhibition opened its doors to the public on June 12, inviting visitors to marvel at Luna’s magnum opus.
This masterpiece propelled Luna into the esteemed realm of “master painters,” cementing his position in the artistic capital of the world amidst the adversities of racial bias. As historian Ambeth R. Ocampo eloquently puts it, Luna’s victories “stirred a profound sense of pride among his fellow countrymen, resonating through the ages, much like Lea Salonga’s triumph on the West End and Broadway, Manny Pacquiao’s conquering of the boxing world, and, most recently, weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz’s historic Olympic Gold medal.”
The search for Hymen, oh Hyménée! by art collector Jaime Ponce de Leon, the visionary founder and director of León Gallery, was an arduous journey spanning nearly a decade. Driven by an unwavering passion, he pursued leads and clues across Europe until 2017 when he finally acquired this legendary artwork. However, it remained hidden away in a crate, awaiting the perfect moment to unveil its brilliance.
In a fortuitous turn of events in 2022, this remarkable artwork found itself on an unprecedented long-term loan to Ayala Museum, aligning perfectly with the upcoming commemoration of the 125th anniversary of Philippine nationhood in 2023.
“It is a rarity to have an exhibition dedicated exclusively to a single artwork,” shared Ma. Elizabeth “Mariles” Gustilo of Ayala Museum. “But a culturally significant treasure like ‘Hymen, oh Hyménée!’ holds captivating narratives of a bygone era while also revealing the enduring aspects of our own time,” she added.
With exhibition design by the ingenious scenographer Gino Gonzales, Ayala Museum’s exhibition “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” delves into the intricacies of this singular artwork through three compelling themes: the world of 1889, Juan Luna as a heroic painter, and the multifaceted imagery inspired by a Roman wedding feast.
Ayala Corporation, Ayala Land Inc., and Insular Life (InLife) co-present this exhibition, with major support from BPI and SMEG. The exhibition will run until Dec. 31.