Rare letter details Juan Luna’s life in prison

MANILA, Philippines – Juan Luna was a revered artist, but also a murderer. The painter, known for works such as The Parisian Life, Las Damas Romanas, and the astounding Spoliarium that currently hangs in the National Museum, went into a jealous rage and shot his wife and mother-in-law in the head in September 1982.

Paz Pardo de Tavera, and her mother Juliana died right away, and Luna was arrested and imprisoned at the Mazas Prison in Paris, where he would be held for several months.

A rare letter written by Luna during that period will go up for bidding at Salcedo Auctions’ Important Philippine Art auction on March 10.

The letter, dated December 9, 1892, was written in Spanish and addressed to Ezequiel Ordoñez, a Spanish lawyer and political figure. While short, the letter reveals certain details about what the painter’s life was like in prison.

“It’s interesting to note that he seemed to have certain special favors accorded to him while he was in prison – that his son could visit him regularly,” Salcedo Auctions director Richie Lerma told Rappler.

“More importantly, it seemed like at a certain point, he already knew he was going to go free, which is the most interesting thing of all, because he seemed very confident that in a few months, ‘Oh, I’ll be reunited with my family,’ and this after having killed [his] mother-in-law and [his] wife.”

In the letter, Luna refers to himself as an “unfortunate man,” and tells Ordoñez about his upcoming trial.

POSTCARD FROM PRISON. The painter addresses a lawyer named Ezequiel Ordou00f1ez in his letter.

Photo courtesy of Salcedo Auctions

An English translation of the letter is available on the Salcedo Auctions website. It reads:

“Most Excellent Sr. D. Ezequiel Ordoñez,

My distinguished friend;

I have received your two attentive letters as well as that of the Director for Public Instruction.

Very much I will be glad that Mr Minister does not forget me and, Mister Ordoñez I do not know how much to thank you for what you do for this unfortunate man.

My trial will probably be held towards the middle of next January and despite my sad situation, I almost prefer to wait resigned and patient this New Year because I can assure you that this has been a disastrous year for me I am looking forward to see it disappear off the calendar.

I see my Andresito 3 times a week, thanks to the kindness of my judge who has really behaved like a true gentleman.

When I get back to that one, I ll take this rest of my destroyed family so I’ll meet yours and he will play with them

Hoping to see you soon I will thank infinitely for your great services with this occasion I will remain always of You grateful, your unfortunate friend

Juan Luna

Lerma said that the letter was consigned to them by a Spanish collector who got it from Ordoñez’s archives. He also said that the letter is unique in that it is the only one known to exist from Luna’s time in prison.

HISTORICALLY SIGNIFICANT. The letter is the only known letter from Luna's imprisonment.

Photo courtesy of Salcedo Auctions

Luna was eventually cleared of all charges, and moved back to Madrid from Paris with his son, who was tutored and cared for by his brother Antonio while he was in prison.

The letter’s value is being estimated at P150,000 to P180,000. It is one piece among several historically significant pieces of art that are part of the auction.

Important Philippine art

Also included are two pieces by two national artists: BenCab, and Ang Kiukok. Both pieces are entitled Mother and Child, though look very different, following the artsists’ distinct styles.

Jose Joya’s Tagaytay Mist is also up for auction. The piece is said to be one of the largest paintings by Joya still in private hands, and is a prime example of the painter’s mastery of abstract expressionism.

The sale also includes Assault Du Fort De Sanditan, a painting by George Housman Thomas, a British painter from the court of Queen Victoria. The painting is rare in that it depicts the Spanish army trying to suppress a local revolt in Sanditan, Mindanao. It was based on an account written by the French Duke of Alençon, and rendered in watercolor by Thomas.

The Important Philippine Art auction will be held on Saturday, March 10, at Three Salcedo Place in Makati. – Rappler.com