Monday, October 24, 2016

Juan Luna, cover boy of Ilustracion Artistica

Three days before his 27th birthday, Juan Luna was cover boy of the 20 October 1884 issue of La Ilustracion Artistica, a weekly newspaper on literature, arts and science published in Barcelona, The cover story gave a brief biography of the artist and dwelt lenghtily on the Spoliarium, his large painting that won the 'primer premio' (gold medal) in the Exposición de Bellas Artes (Exhibition of Fine Arts) in Madrid.

The story described Luna as a 17-year old boy who received the title of Piloto de Altos Mares (Pilot of the High Seas) from the Escuela de Nautica de Manila in 1874. He boarded a ship shortly after graduation, starting his career as a beardless boy, according to the story, and sailed for thirty months. His shipmates called him el marino atrevido, the daring sailor.

During those thirty months, he had as much time to study the sky, according to the story, and probably to think about new ideas of securing a bright future. Here's how Ilustracion depicted Luna's predicament out there at sea  --

"Who knows ... Maybe in the imposing solitude of the sea, in one of those times when there is no way to avoid nostalgia, in which one yearns for something unknown and the heart struggles to get out of the chest as the prisoner struggles to leave the prison, as the bird struggles to get out of the cage, our young man was fixed on a star; and the wind that rippled the surface of the waters whispered in his ear unexpected revelations, mysterious words that no one pronounces and yet distinctly resonate in the soul of the preordained. Those words are also like those heard by Saul on the road to Damascus and Augustine on African soil; inspiration from on high that puts the powerful genius to go in reverse what he begun on the journey of life."

All it wanted to say was that Luna changed his mind about his career. For as soon as he had landed, and he was turning twenty years old, he entered the Academia de Bellas Artes in Manila 'with the intent of studying drawing.'  He was, according to the story, tested soon. He got affected by the dismissal of one of the directors, who was deemed inept or not fully qualified by the rest of the school directors.

Luna transferred to another school, and as Ilustracion said:

"Who was daring at sea should not, on the ground, easily give up a pawn: D. Lorenzo Guerrero, a professor as modest and as intelligent, admitted Luna to his Academia India, and discovering in this already big student truly exceptional qualities, he advised his parents to send him to Madrid, where he met the renowned painter D. Alejo Vera, a skilled teacher and a friend, more than a friend, almost a father. It is not therefore surprising that when Vera transferred to Rome, he took with him his fond disciple. This was in 1878; a year before he begun in the first rudiments of drawing; three years later. he won the second medal in the Madrid Exposition of 1881, with the painting "Muerte de Cleopatra." The new artist started his career rather late, but as if to make up for the lost time, he had to catch up. In three years, he had leveled with good painters; in another three (1884), he has taken place among the great masters.".

The Spoliarium was a supplement, a two-page spread, in the La Ilustracion Artistica
That same issue had for its supplement a two-page spread of the painting of fallen gladiators being hauled away after the bloody sports competition in the Roman arena.

Five months earlier, the cover of  the 30 May 1884 issue of La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana, a weekly newspaper published in Madrid, also showed the Spoliarium: how it was displayed at a Exposicion gallery with a small crowd of viewers, who could have been discussing about its merits and rating it among the other competing entries.

Spoliarium at the Exposition

Luna's works actually started getting the attention of these two weekly newspapers as early as 1881. La Ilustracion Espanola y Americana featured a one-page spread of his Muerte de Cleopatra, which he entered in the Exposicion de Bellas Artes in Madrid in 1881. The reporter on the exhibits noted that with better composition and careful drawing, Luna, without doubt, would shine in Spanish contemporary art.

In our latest survey, the last appearance of a Luna painting was in the 27 January 1896 issue of La Ilustracion Artistica: the painting titled El Trapero [The Ragman or Ragpicker].  The write-up said that "this simple composition has enough elements to show the characteristic qualities of  the painter's works, among which undoubtedly stands out the vigor of his drawing and brushwork, revealing a fiery temperament and a lively imagination." 

El Trapero.

In that span of fifteen years, several of Luna's work were played up in both Ilustracion newspapers. Except that of the masterpiece Spoliarium, a short write-up accompanied each featured painting.

Pictures of the following Luna paintings appeared in La Illustracion Artistica of Barcelona:

1.  Mujeres Romanas was the supplement (two-page spread) in the 25 February1884 issue; 

2. La Belleza Feliz y La Esclava Ciega occupied one whole page in the 14 March 1887 issue; 

3. El Babieca was on the cover of the 02 April1888 issue; 

El Babieca.

4.  La Mestiza, which won a diploma of honor in the 1887 Exposition in Madrid, was in the 28 May 1888 issue; 

5. Ensuenos de Amor, his entry to the Universal Exposition of 1888 in Paris, appeared in the 25 June 1888 issue; and  

Pueblos y Reyes

6.  Pueblos y Reyes was fearured in the 21 May 1894 issue.  The accompanying short article said that this was a controversial piece in the 1892 Exposicion Nacional but it deserved the applause accorded to it and the painter. It was described as a "large canvas [that] can be appreciated as a great sketch pictorially; but the conception, movement and action of the figures, the whole ensemble energetically portrays a moment, a violent and brutal deed, the orgy of a popular uprising." 

The popular painting España Guiando a Las Islas Filipinas por el Camino del Progreso was featured in the 08 January 1889 issue of  La Ilustracion Española y Americana of Madrid.  A version of this can be viewed at the Lopez Museum and Library.

Spain guiding the Philippines

Luna killed his wife and mother-in-law in September 1892. We have yet to see if a French newspaper had a story about this incident and his acquittal later. It appears that this did not affect the appreciation of the culturati of Spain of Juan Luna's masterful paintings. His works still got publicity after 1892.



All images in this blog are from the digital collection of the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana. The Ilustacion newspapers can be accessed from the Search box of the Biblioteca webpage:

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