Luna’s Paris, Hidalgo’s Politics looks in the intersection of art and history. It also seeks to make apparent the emergence of the idea of nation among Filipinos.
In Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo’s “Assassination of Governor Bustamante,” the complexities of the 19th century Philippine colonial society are crystallized. Its depiction of the historical account assumes layers of religious, political, cultural, as well as racial sentiment. While Hidalgo was never seen as a highly politicized artist, some of his works in the Lopez Museum and Library are insightful regarding this aspect.
“The work of Felix Resurrecion Hidalgo and Juan Luna may be richly considered from a position that is critical of nationalism, skeptical of the rhetoric of heroism, and aloof from the universal claims of art and modernity. (It is also an attitude of mistrust towards the hagiographic disposition of Philippine art history.” - Marian Pastor Roces, Hidalgo and Luna Vexed Modernity
Between 1884 to 1894, Juan Luna was based in Paris. His stay was one of the more colorful periods in his life, as well as one of the least investigated aspect of his European sojourn. It was in Paris where Luna’s work gained a sureness and depth unseen in past work. It was also in Paris where the tragedy of his marriage occurred and his pardon, a reflection of the period’s ambivalence towards the colonies and its rigid social beliefs.
By focusing on select pieces from the permanent collection, the exhibition proposes to investigate specific aspects of Hidalgo’s and Luna’s work and career, and at the same time re-investigate the historical context and temperature of the period—of the work’s production against the actual historical event.
The three artists, Luna, Hidalgo, and Amorsolo, for this exhibition have always been seen as defining their generation of artists. To a certain extent they were instrumental in the development of or perception of certain areas of culture and our concept of nationhood.
“[Wenceslao Retana] says that I am not known in Spain and he has seen all my paintings, except one, and according to those who know, I do not occupy any notable place among Spanish painters, but, on the contrary I am painter of the fifth or sixth class! … All this is written to make our countrymen understand what we are… as always of an inferior race and we are always at the tail end.” – Juan Luna, Paris, 21 December 1890 (Letter to Jose Rizal), in Rizal’s Correspondence with Fellow Reformists, Manila: National Historical Institute, 992 (Second Printing; First Printing in 1963), p. 509. Wenceslao Retana, historian and commentator on socio-cultural matters in Spain’s Las islas Filipinas of the fin de siècle, was peninsular.
The time period wherein Luna and Hidalgo found themselves in Paris was known as the Belle Epoque marked by Art Nouveau (a decorative style which spread widely over Western Europe during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th century), the works of the Impressionists, and modern works such as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.
Paris was an important center as it held the Royal/French Academy of Paintings and Sculpture. Although there were academies elsewhere such as the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid where both Hidalgo and Luna studied, the Royal Academy in France was considered very important. This institution held exhibitions which later came to be known as Salon because it was usually held in the Salon d’Apollo of the Louvre. Most of those who exhibited were members of the Society of French Artists and they had a say on which works would be part of the Paris Exposition. While neither Luna nor Hidalgo were members of the said society, they had works exhibited in the Paris Exposition; some of their works even won recognition.
The Filipinos in Madrid had a banquet in honor of Juan Luna and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo when both won in the 1884 Madrid exposition. During this banquet which was held in Café Ingles, Jose Rizal (in lieu of Pedro Paterno) and Graciano Lopez Jaena gave a toast to the two winner. Juan Luna was present during the banquet, but Hidalgo was not as he was already in Paris. He however, sent a letter thanking his compatriots and this was read during the banquet. Luna would follow Hidalgo in Paris later. The exhibition, Luna’s Paris / Hidalgo’s Politics focued on the two artists’ works done in that city. We have here some early works by Luna and large-scale work by Hidalgo with which to contrast the style and subject matter of the artists’ works in Paris.
The exhibition uses the museum’s premier collection of Hidalgos and Lunas, and shares with the public aspects of the collection never before focused on and studied in depth. While we look at the paintings of Luna while he was in Paris, also explored are Hidalgo’s political subjects as reflected in many of his studies and final paintings. These perspectives, while mentioned in the artists’ biographies, have never before been the sole subject of an exhibition. Hidalgo’s Politics | Luna’s Paris is therefore an exhibition which hopes to spark scholarly interest among art and history enthusiasts to delve deeper into unexplored areas of our important and noted artistic figures.