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A Harvester Waving in Lequeitio

A Harvester Waving in Lequeitio
signed 'LUNA' (lower right)
oil on canvas
159 x 167.5 cm. (62 5⁄8 x 66 in.)
Painted circa 1893-1894
Yanguas Collection, Madrid
Acquired from the above by the Count of Pries, Adolfo Príes y Bertrán
Thence by descent to the present owner

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Senior Vice President, Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

“In the history of nations there are names that by themselves signify an achievement, that recall passion and greatness, names that…become a pact, a symbol of peace, a bond of love between the nations. The names of Luna and Hidalgo belong to these; their glories illumine the two extremes of the globe- the East and the West, Spain and the Philippines.” - Jose Rizal

In the annals of Philippine Art, the late 19th Century painter Juan Luna stands out as the one of the most celebrated heroes of his generation, lauded for his achievements as a classical painter and his prominent role in elevating the school of Philippine art to international regard.

Born in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, Luna first began studying painting at the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura in Manila, later departing for Spain and attending Madrid’s Academia de San Fernando in 1878. However it was during his residency in Rome between 1879 - 1884 that Luna began producing the works which brought him to critical attention. Most importantly, his magnum opus Spoliarium (1884) achieved the highest reward – a gold medal – at the National Exposition of Fine Arts in Madrid, and is now considered a Philippine national treasure. Moving to Paris in 1884 saw Luna’s strict Italian classicism eventually give way to a softer ‘French style’, shifting away from the darker hues and chiaroscuro of the academic palette and becoming increasingly light in colour and mood, with a focus on street scenes and day-to-day occurrences. This post-academic, or Parisian period, would continue to influence aspects of Luna’s later oeuvre beyond his departure from the French capital in February 1893.

In July 1893, at the invitation of Senator Victor Chavarri and his partner, the steel magnate Don Martinez Rivas, Luna moved to Portugalete in Bilbao, and spent some 10 months on this sojourn. Under the patronage of Rivas and Chavarri, he painted several commissioned pieces (1) which marked a return of the artist to the social realist theme. Luna was also fond of painting excursions to the seashore, and though little has been documented of his time in Basque Country, we can attribute Harvester Waving in Lequeitio, whose landscape represents that of the charming fishermen town nestled between the cities of Bilbao and San Sebastian, as of the same period as the artist’s Bilbao residence, and a part of his final European oeuvre preceding his return to Manila in 1894.

Set on a warm summer’s day, the present lot captures a wonderful, almost candid glimpse, of a grape harvester calling out to three women in the distance. Perched on a little hill, the women appear deep in conversation, and have yet to pay heed to his outstretched wave. A gentle breeze sways their skirts as they face an azure Cantabrian sea, calm and peaceful and dotted with sailboats, probably fishermen out for a day’s work. The scene is one of idyllic pastoral beauty, from the cottage hidden behind a hill with smoke softly billowing forth, to the women and the harvester dressed in simple cotton or linen work clothes.

Here, Luna’s characteristic vigorous impasto is readily seen in the almost disorderly smudging – in various directions – of pigment in his rendition of the rugged texture of the hill. A similar treatment is rendered to the movement of the wind as it flows across the grass and land toward the coast in swathes of pale greens and earthy beiges, and to the sky above, awash in hues of bluish gray and white and executed in short, quick, almost ‘impressionistic’ brushwork that denote a cloudy day.

Particular care is taken in detailing the resplendent grape trellis that weaves across the foreground of the painting, hung with luscious purple grapes – perhaps of the red Honarribi Beltza variety used in the making of Basque’s signature Chacolí de Vizcaya wine – and flourishing with vine leaves rendered in various shades of growth. Luna’s precision in painting these gleaming orbs of fruit and their tumbling foliage is evidence of his roots in the classical tradition as well as his mastery of light and shade, and one notices a similarity to that of a Nature Morte. Colour is skilfully employed and illuminates the composition, from the crimson txapela/chapela (traditional Basque hat) and coral-hued shirt of the harvester captured in a spontaneous mid-wave, to the fine and tactile details outlined in the women’s smocks that provide such a charming detail. This harmony of texture, colour, and a lighter hand illustrates the refreshing provincial atmosphere of Lequeitio, its vibrant people and elegant landscape.

The present lot has remained an elusive treasure of impeccable provenance, tracing its history to the collection of the esteemed jurist, diplomat and politician José de Yanguas y Messía, 11th Viscount of Santa Clara de Avedillo (1890 – 1974). Acquired in 1966 by Adolfo Príes y Bertrán, the former Conde de Príes, it has then remained in the hands of the family until today. By far the largest work of the artist to appear at auction, the joyful and tranquil mood of Harvester Waving In Lequeitio highlights Luna’s sensitivity and skill in capturing a fleeting moment of ordinary life and imbuing it with personality and universal emotions, a reflection perhaps of the carefree and happier times spent in Basque.

(1)Two factory scenes La Colada and Interior de los Talleres del Acero Robert, as well as works capturing Chavarri’s Vizcaya blast furnaces – Age of bread in the blast furnaces of Vizcaya (1893) and Workers in the Robert Steel converters workshop in Vazcaya (1894) are two paintings that can be admired at RIALIA Museum of Industry

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