Details
JUAN LUNA
(Filipino, 1857-1899)
La Española (En el Balcón) (The Spanish Lady on the Balcony)
signed and dated 'LVNA 84' (lower right)
oil on canvas
83 x 54 cm. (32 5?8 x 21 1?4 in.)
Painted in 1884
Provenance
Private Collection, Paris, France

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Lot Essay

Late 19th Century painter Juan Luna is a highly significant figure for his achievements as a classical painter and prominent role in elevating the school of Philippine art to international regard. Born to a middle-class family in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, Luna first began studying painting at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura in Manila, closely associated with Madrid's Academia de San Fernando which Luna later attended in 1878 after departing for Spain. However it was during his residency in Rome between 1879 - 1884 together with the Spanish school of his mentor, Don Alejo Vera, that Luna first began producing the works which brought him to critical attention. His most important achievement was in winning a gold medal at the National Exposition of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1884 for his magnum opus, the Spoliarium - an epic mural showing the fallen bodies of Roman gladiators being dragged out of the arena. This was a transitional year for Juan Luna. He was concluding his stay in Rome and preparing to move to Paris, where his Italian classicism would eventually give way to a softer'French' style. In the midst of this came the excitement and high acclaim which accompanied his gold medal win in Madrid, and numerous requests for commissioned works by influential patrons.

Luna's influences from the Spanish masters such as Goya (Fig. 1) and Velázquez in painting light and shade are visible in La Española. The foreground is bright, almost brilliant, with the woman's fair skin, scarlet blouse and red velvet seat cast in strong relief against the dark, indistinct interior. Only the walls of the balcony are depicted but no other background details, apart from a bronze vase or urn behind her chair. Luna illustrates the source of light as falling squarely on her face and front, with no shadows in evidence - the beautiful woman is intended fully and completely as the centre of attention. Together with the long narrow format of the canvas, La Española is meant to be the style of salon picture in vogue during the 19th Century, suitable for hanging in a drawing room of a European house along with the other paintings from a patron's collection.

La Española (Lot 25) was painted in 1884, the same year as the Spoliarium. Visually however it is a completely different type of composition. Instead of a monumental scene with socio-political undertones, it is an intimate portrait of a young Spanish woman sitting pensively on a balcony. To a viewer, it is unclear if she is watching something on the street below, perhaps a fiesta procession, waiting for a lover, or simply lost in thought contemplating life. There is a slightly enigmatic quality to her visage. Luna's characteristic vigorous brushwork is clearly in evidence, with thickly applied impasto rendering an almost impressionistic quality, particularly in the folds of the woman's dress, the drapes of her shawl and the twining floral blossoms around the balustrade. Particular care is taken in detailing her fine, though somewhat heavyset features, blush-pink complexion, clear eyes, and carefully arranged locks of auburn hair. Luna's precision in painting the lacework of the black Spanish fringe around her shoulders is also strongly apparent.

However it is unlikely La Española is a commissioned portrait of an actual reallife sitter, suggested by her reticent posture and lack of full facial gaze towards the artist. It is quite possibly a painting made from a plein-air sketch of a woman whom Luna actually observed on a Spanish balcony during his strolls through the streets of Madrid, or even more likely, an idealised combination of the various 'Madrileñas' Luna had encountered.

La Española's pensive attitude, slightly averted eyes, and three-quarter inclined body is idiosyncratic of Luna's portraits of unfamiliar women that he felt compelled to paint - women on the street, in theatres, in the markets, in other scenes of daily life - whom he encountered but was not personally acquainted with. This brings to mind another well-known Luna composition, Parisian Life (Fig. 2) where a woman within a Parisian bar adopts the same reticent posture and downcast eyes, as she is watched by a trio of men. Luna's women are objects of desire, veneration, but also social observation. The elevated position of La Española on an exposed balcony - where she can be easily seen by a passerby on the street - suggests that she has been placed on display. Whether she is an upper class debutante, a young wife from a privileged family, or even a courtesan (though her conservative dress contradicts this) is unclear. What is clear is that Luna is turning her into a spectacle: a beautiful, desirable, woman raised above the street crowds by her balcony, simultaneously an observer as well as the observed (Fig. 3).

During a year in which Luna executed the Spoliarium and other Roman pictures, while conceptualizing hefty works such as the Battle of Lepanto, which had been commissioned by the Spanish senate, this smaller salon work must have been a welcome distraction for him. La Española's relatively more spontaneous brushwork appears to be an early precursor to the French works he would later commence as he began to relinquish the strict classicism of his Roman period. The precise period of La Española's composition is unclear, however we do know that although Luna was resident in first Rome and then Paris during 1884, he spent most of the summer in Madrid working on portraits and other commissioned works. He first arrived in May 1884 for his triumph at the National Exposition and stayed on to enjoy the fruits of his success, keeping a studio on Calle Gorguera. In August 1884, Luna also made an on-site direct copy of the Spoliarium as it was still hanging in the Madrid exposition for a Russian patron who had fallen passionately in love with it. Following this, he packed up the original and shipped it to his new studio in Paris, intending to submit it for the Paris exposition. Most likely other works from Madrid accompanied the freight of the massive Spoliarium, which could explain how La Española travelled to Paris and eventually became part of a French collection. Luna also returned to Madrid again in November to present the preliminary study for the Battle of Lepanto to the senate. However based on the flowering blossoms, scarlet blouse and lightweight attire of the woman in La Española , it seems most likely this was a summer painting and indeed created during the May to August period of 1884.
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