Ronald Ventura work sold for over $1M at Leon auction 2
“Blind Mechanism" by Ronald Ventura. Image courtesy of Leon Gallery

Ronald Ventura painting sold for over $1M at auction, a new Philippine record for the artist

Meanwhile, five new world records were smashed at last Saturday’s Kingly Treasures bidding wars at Leon Gallery
EA Sta. Maria | Dec 05 2022

It was a royal riot at the recent León Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction last weekend. An “all-seats-taken” crowd signaled not only the official and much-awaited end of the pandemic—at least in the art-buying community—but also the start of an upbeat mood in said community for 2023.

The star of the show was no less than Ronald Ventura’s 20-year old work “Blind Mechanism”, depicting a racehorse crying red tears. The large painting set a Philippine record for the artist when it sold for an eye-watering P57.2 million or just over 1 million USD. His previous Philippine record, also made at León Gallery, was for “Crack in the Hull” which sold in 2014 for approximately half or P25.6 million.

Ramon Orlina's Mr. Makiling II
"Mt. Makiling II" by Ramon Orlina

Jaime Ponce de Leon, Leon Gallery Director and moving force behind the auction explains the excitement over the Ventura: “Even if you consider that the highest price ever paid internationally for a Ventura was actually US $2 million [for a work called “Party Animals”], ‘Blind Mechanism’ still measures up nicely to that, and even beside his epic work, “Grayground” which first got him noticed internationally, considering “Party Animals” and “Grayground” are much bigger works. And let’s not forget “Blind Mechanism” has excellent pedigree; it came from the exhibition for the CCP 13 Artists Award of 2003, the year Ventura was given the 13 Artists accolade.”

Moving on from Ventura, five world records, representing the creme de la creme of the art world, were broken as well at Saturday’s bidding wars. Sitting at the top were two contenders for the Philippines’ next National Artist for Visual Arts — the painter Danilo Dalena and sculptor Ramon Orlina. 

Quiapo by Danilo Dalena
"Quiapo" by Danilo Dalena

Dalena’s powerful depiction of the heaving crowds that dwarf the Black Nazarene during the annual January procession in Quiapo was a real head-turner (and gavel-banger) at nearly P19 million, inclusive of buyer’s premium. Meanwhile, Orlina’s majestic Mt. Makiling II — also one of his largest works that capture the curves of this magical mountain — fetched for P16 million, also inclusive of buyer’s premium. With this sale, the famed “glass-whisperer” truly has singlehandedly propelled the Filipino sculpture market to new heights.

The three next entrants to the world-record club are all pioneering painters in their own fields: Social realist Emmanuel “Manny” Garibay’s epic work titled “Kasama,” which he himself had described as one of his most significant paintings, reaped P6.4 million. A moody oil painting in gray, called “Angel”, brought abstractionist Bernardo Pacquing to his personal peak at P3.5 million. And the under-rated Venancio Igarta, a modernist stalwart who left a career in Manila for New York, rang in the tills at P1.6 million. 

'Angel' by Bernardo Pacquing
"Angel" by Bernardo Pacquing

“It was a satisfying showing for Philippine art, and to their credit, the growing sophistication of the Filipino collector,” says Ponce de Leon of the Auction turnout. Derek Flores, noted art manager/adviser, observes: “The León auction shows that the market for contemporary art is still vibrant and sustainable, with artists such as Ronald Ventura, Manny Garibay and John Santos recording outstanding hammer prices.” Santos’ piece got an impressive P14 million on the auction floor.

Collector and art market analyst Atty. Antonio “Toñico” Manahan” said, “While we may be on the cusp of a global recession, the best of the best continues to perform well and even break records. The art market is definitely experiencing a flight to quality; as demonstrated by the auction’s performance as it featured mostly high quality pieces.”

Kasama by Emmanuel Garibay
"Kasama" by Emmanuel Garibay

“Quality and unimpeachable provenance” were decisive factors, said heritage expert and social historian Augusto M.R. Gonzalez III. Pieces from the likes of uber-collector Roberto T. Villanueva, Francisco J. Nakpil, and Senator Leticia Ramos Shahani, and other famous names helped catapult the auction’s prices to great heights.

The “Cyclist” by Arturo Luz that once belonged to Architect Francisco Nakpil, who was on the legendary team that designed the Rizal Theater, fetched P 11 million; Manuel and Violeta Dumlao’s wall-sized Jose Joya, a college comrade in the arts, racked up P 18 million; while “Luminosa II” by Fernando Zobel accomplished P19 million, helped no doubt by the artist’s recent successful exhibition at the Prado in. Madrid. Ang Kiukoks and Joyas that belonged to culture-warrior Letty Shahani and hung in her various embassy residences also turned in solid results. The Christmas “Carroza” by Malang, so called because it was painted on December 25th, took in P13 million.

“It was that same winning combination of quality and unquestionable provenance that led to the 220-year old ‘La Niña Dormida’ selling for a whopping P5.4 million, and to one of the country’s top collectors,” enthused Gonzalez. This delicate ivory tableau, said the antiques expert, “is the earliest depiction of the Infant Virgin Mary in the Philippines as well as the most extravagant being in the medium of carved ivory. It could very well be the best and the only depiction of the subject.” 

The four-postered canopied bed entirely created in ivory is also believed to be the only one of its kind. It’s been dubbed the “Grail of R. Hidalgo,” referring to the address of its past owners, the Rodriguez-Infante-Velez-Zaragoza-Araneta families.

Another 19th-century marvel, the charming “La Vache (The Cow)” by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, from the Roberto T. Villanueva Collection, romped off with P3.5 million. While Hidalgo’s spiritual heir Fernando Amorsolo continued to hold his own by scoring P26 Million for the exceptional painting, “Noonday Meal on a Raft House.”

All in all, the León Gallery Kingly Treasures Auction set a powerful pace for the end of 2022 and an auspicious beginning to the year ahead in art-selling and art-buying.