A luminous oil of a French bovine, by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo and titled “La Vache (The Cow)”, painted around 1890, is one of the many stars on Leon Gallery’s roster for its Kingly Treasures Auction on December 3.
The painting connects two well-accomplished men separated by more than a century, on one hand the legendary collector and on the other, a master of his craft.
Upon beholding the painting, Dinky Bantug declared it had come from the collection of his father, the scholar Jose Bantug.
Bantug and another “omnivore” collector, industrialist Robert T. Villanueva, best known for his porcelain and mid-century modern holdings, were very good friends.
The painting by Hidalgo is also traced to Villanueva’s legendary art collection.
Villanueva was acclaimed for his ability to package huge business deals. In his early forties, he packaged the takeover of Meralco by an all-Filipino company controlled by the Lopezes. He was also behind the acquisition of Atlantic Gulf & Pacific (AG &P) by Filipino investors.
More than a century earlier, the iconic painter Hidalgo was the very definition of old world riches, having been directly descended from Don Narciso Padilla.
Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez, a social historian, says Don Narciso Padilla was the father of Doña Barbara Padilla y Flores (“Doña Baritay”). Barbara was the mother of Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo y Padilla.
The Padillas’ fortunes were legendary in the 19th century.
(Gonzalez notes, however, they are NOT the direct ancestors of today’s real estate-rich Padillas. “If memory serves me,” he said, “Don Narciso Padilla had a nephew from Lingayen, Pangasinan, Tomas Padilla, whom he summoned to Manila for a formal education. Tomas had a son, Nicanor Padilla y Escobar, who married Ysabel Bibby y Pena. They were the parents of Carmen Bibby Padilla-Lesaca, Justice Sabino Bibby Padilla, Attorney Ambrosio Bibby Padilla, Felix Bibby Padilla, et al.”)
Casa Barbara “Baritay” Padilla de Resurreccion Hidalgo, later known as the Felipe Hidalgo y Kleimpell residence, was on Calle San Sebastian, Quiapo.
Barbara’s father, Narciso Padilla, built a shipping and trading fortune that spanned Luzon and the southern islands.
Barbara Padilla de Resurreccion Hidalgo or Doña Baritay” was known as La Reina de Rio Pasig, or “the Queen of the Pasig River”, because of her immense shipping and warehousing for her boats and “cascos” which plied the length of the river and beyond to trade various basic goods. Her warehouses lined the length of the Pasig River from Tondo to Binondo.
In her old age, Barbara Padilla de Resurreccion Hidalgo sold her shipping business to Luis Yangco, considerably adding to the core of his increasing wealth, which survives to this day through his Yangco-Magsaysay descendants and the flourishing Magsaysay shipping business.
The Neo-Gothic detailed house was famous for the eccentric, all-encompassing collection of Felipe Hidalgo, a descendant of the venerable Padilla family and a nephew of Hidalgo.
The magnificent Hidalgo collection was dispersed in the early 1980s and the house consequently demolished in the late 1980s.
Félix was educated at the University of Santo Tomas. He studied law, which he never finished, receiving a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. He was simultaneously enrolled at Manila’s art academy, the Escuela de Dibujo y Pintura.
In 1876, he showed his “La banca” (The Native Boat), “Vendedora de lanzones” (Lanzones Vendor) and other paintings at the Teatro Circo de Bilibid in Manila, before they were sent to the United States Centennial Exposition that year in Philadelphia.
In 1877, Hidalgo was awarded second place in the contest for best cover design for the deluxe edition of Father Manuel Blanco’s “Flora de Filipinas” (Plants of the Philippines).
In 1878, he painted the expressive “Los mendigos” (The Beggars). In 1879, Hidalgo left for Spain as the Ayuntamiento of Manila’s pensionado or government scholar in fine arts. In Madrid, he studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes.
Together with Juan Luna y Novicio, Hidalgo inspired members of the Philippine reform movement which included José Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce and Graciano López Jaena, and the other Filipino expatriates in Europe.
Luna garnered a gold medal, and Hidalgo a silver medal in the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts prompting Rizal to toast the two painters’ good health and citing their win as evidence that Filipinos and Spaniards were equals.
Hidalgo’s winning piece was “Las virgenes Cristianasexpuestas alpopulacho” (The Christian Virgins Exposed to the Populace), The painting, now part of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas art collection, shows a group of men mocking nearly naked female Christians martyrs, one of whom is seated in the foreground, head bowed in misery.
At the Exposición General de las Islas Filipinas in Madrid in 1887, organized by the Spanish Overseas Ministry, Hidalgo exhibited two major works. These were “La barca de Aqueronte” (The Boat of Charon), 1887, and “Laguna estigia” (The Styx), 1887, for which he received a gold medal.
“La barca” was again shown at the Exposition Universelle in Paris and was awarded a silver medal by an international jury. In 1891 it was accorded a diploma of honor at the Exposición General de Bellas Artes of Barcelona.
This painting also received a gold medal in the International Exposition of Fine Arts in Madrid during the commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America.
Hidalgo exhibited “Adios al sol” (Farewell to the Sun), 1891 at the Exposición Internacional de Bellas Artes in Madrid in that year and “El crepusculo” (“The Dawn”), 1893, at the Universal Exposition in Chicago, also in that year.
He showed both paintings again at the Exposición Artistica de Bilbao in August 1894. At the Exposición Regional de Filipinas in Manila in January 1895, Hidalgo showed his paintings although he did not come home.
Perhaps he did not do so because he was preparing “Oedipus y Antigone” (Oedipus and Antigone), “El violinista” (The Violinist), and other works for exhibition at the Salon at Champs-Elysées, Paris.
Hidalgo received a gold medal for his overall participation at the Universal Exposition in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. His “El violinista” was accorded a gold medal.
In 1912, he finally visited Manila after 30 years upon his mother’s request. She had wanted him to be with her in her last days but after six months, he went back to Paris. The following year, Hidalgo died in Barcelona.
(Excerpted from essays by Augusto Marcelino Gonzalez III ‘Memorable Manila Houses’ and ‘Letras y Figuras’ and an article by the late Ramon N. Villegas for The Kingly Treasures Auction 2016 catalog.)