Walls full but cash poor

Walls full but cash poor

Wala Lang

I received a message after my article last week hit the streets. On collectors feeling rich while tracking auction results, Jayson Ong texted, “It’s really very joyful to compute for the present estimated value of our collection but it’s also very hard for us to let go of pieces we really like kaya hanggang compute na lang tayo.”

That’s true. My conscience scolds me every so often, “Don’t be attached to material possessions; thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s goods; you can’t take it with you.” So I sell something and seller’s remorse follows immediately. 

HR Ocampo’s 1948 ‘Calvary’

“Don’t spend too much; what if you get sick?” Conscience cautioned when I came across an irresistible once-in-a-lifetime find, H.R. Ocampo’s 1948 Calvary. I forgot I had health insurance and therefore dispatched for auction four small paintings also by H.R. to pay for it.

The artist had painted them specially for me but I had other nice HRs and said to myself I could spare them. I had asked Mang Nanding to do a painting each in red, green, orange, and blue. He said yes but he had not done anything in blue. Anyway, the result was “Cat Bait”—a plate of hitò all in shades of blue.  It was a take-off from a work by his wife Aling Cresing who also painted, of a fried fish lunch.

HR Ocampo’s 1974 ‘Cat Bait’

At the time, I didn’t know who the winning bidder was It was Jayson and we soon became friends. Just the same, whenever I bring the auction up his reply is always, “Please come, look at them anytime.”

I also sold an Ang Kiukok take off from Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Its background was black and it kept on getting moldy. I made a modest profit but it’s nothing compared to what it would fetch these days. A time-lapsed seller’s remorse, that’s what it is.

A good defense against conscience attacks is the years and effort to get coveted neighbors’ goods. 

My fraternity brods and I went Christmas caroling at an alumni brod’s La Vista home and there was this magnificent Crucifixion relieve on his sala wall. I figured it was something that I could only dream about but I got to know our brod’s wife and never failed to ask her how the relieve was every time I saw her. She got the hint and almost 20 years later, she called me out of the blue, saying the relieve was already in her Iloilo home but it was mine if I was still interested. She had three relieves and she shipped them all back. I couldn’t afford all three and persuaded a friend to buy the other two, something that I soon regretted. He has since resisted all efforts to sell me even only one but I’m still hoping.

18th century relieve of the Crucifixion

Then there’s a small Paciencia (Christ seated in pain after being scourged) in the collection of Bacolod’s Fulgencio Vega. For maybe 10 years, I would drop by to admire it each time I was in town, always hinting heavily, “When, oh when will you sell it to me.”  I was minister of the budget when I suppose in exasperation Fulgie blurted, “I’ll just give it to you when you become Central Bank governor.” He said nothing when I did become Central Bank governor and while itching to remind him, neither did I.  In 1985, Mrs. Vega wrote saying that Fulgie had passed away and had left instructions for her to give me the santo I liked so much. By coincidence the next time I was in Bacolod was the Tuesday after the weekend when people power crowds began surrounding Camp Aguinaldo, in February 1986. EDSA or no EDSA, I wasn’t giving up my Fulgie inheritance. I got back to Manila minutes before the airport was closed. I say a little prayer for Fulgie every time I look at the Paciencia.

Similarly conscience-resistant is a picture in the book that gave me my first art history lesson, “The Art of the Philippines 1521-1957,” by Winfield Scott Smith III. I was intrigued by Portrait of a Man in a Blue Barong Tagalog. I wondered who it was, what happened to him, who his descendants are. I never thought I’d ever see it but about 10 years later, I did. 

There was this house that I passed daily on the way to work. Its windows were always closed but on that one day an upstairs window was open. I slowed down, looked up, and there it was! It took months to find out who the homeowner was, years before I identified a mutual friend, and more time to arrange an introduction and an invitation to go look at the painting. All in all it took about 15 years from reading to possessing. The painting turned out to be of Don Paterno Molo, ancestor of quite a few friends and was inscribed “Severino Flav.r Pab.o Ano 1836/Nació en 21 de Agosto de/1786 y Falleció en 26 de Abril de 1853.

Walls full but cash poor, that’s what collectors often are

Notes: (a) Jayson Ong is a Central Luzon businessman and a well-known art collector; (b) Don Paterno Molo is the ancestor among others of the Paterno and Madrigal families. It is one of the four or five known works by Severino Flavier Pablo and the earliest known portrait of an indio (or more accurately, a mestizo sangley). The painting is currently on loan to the National Gallery Singapore; and (c) The collection of the late Fulgencio Vega was donated to the Museum Negrense de La Salle (Bacolod) at the University of St. La Salle. 

Comments are cordially invited, addressed to [email protected]

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2021-03-15 00: 12: 00

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