When we talk about Araneta’s legacy in art, the first name that comes to mind is Luis Ma. Araneta, the pioneer of monument preservation, architect, decorator, businessman and patron of the arts. But one man is in the same league as his famous brother: J. Antonio Araneta. Along with his wife Margarita, J. Antonio had a passion – and discerning taste – for all things beautiful. The couple eventually built up an important collection of paintings.
Don J. Antonio Araneta was born on March 19, 1905 in Santa Mesa, Manila. He was the son of lawyer and nationalist Don Gregorio Soriano Araneta and award-winning painter Doña Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas from wealthy Spanish mestizo Zaragoza and the Roxas clans of Manila.
Don Gregorio and Doña Carmen established the surname Araneta as one of the most famous and prominent in Manila high society. They had 13 other children besides J. Antonio: Carmen, Jose, Salvador, Consuelo, Paz, Rosa, Teresa, Ramon, Vicente, Conchita, Margarita, Luis and Francisco. J. Antonio’s public persona was shaped by his distinguished legal career after following in his father’s footsteps to build a distinguished legal career. He was known for being uncompromising in his actions and always standing up for what he believed in.
Even in his legal writings, the legal luminary had what the family history titled 1030 R. Hidalgo described as “a fondness for clarity and a disdain for literary flourishes” that often clouds the thought one is trying to convey.” He also acquired The Philippines Graphic, the oldest surviving nationally circulated English weekly, which he acquired from Ramon Roces, the ‘King of Comedy’, in the 1970s.
In addition to his reputation for straightforwardness and uncompromising steadfastness in his legal practice, there is another facet to the person of J. Antonio Araneta – the consummate art connoisseur. His enthusiasm for art had been nurtured by his formative years at the pre-war family ancestral home at 1030 R. Hidalgo in the pre-war Quapo. (Note that the address was used to name the previously mentioned Araneta family history book).
Growing up in R. Hidalgo’s mansion meant that J. Antonio was exposed to art and beauty throughout his life. His brother Salvador once described their house as having “decoratively painted walls originally executed by Master Toribio Antillon and his students Modesto Reyes and Juan Arellano. The living room was designed in the Renaissance style of the time. My mother’s entrance hall, caida and tocador were executed in Art Nouveau style, while my father’s private library had Pompeian decorations.”
The social historian Augusto MR Gonzales III best describes J. Antonio’s early exposure to art: “[J. Antonio Araneta] had good taste from an early age, which is not surprising given that her family lived on the aristocratic Calle R. Hidalgo in the finest pre-war residence. His mother, Doña Carmen Zaragoza y Roxas de Araneta, although known for her Roman Catholic piety and simplicity, was also a woman of high style, concerned about her clothes and her beautiful home.”
R. Hidalgo Street in Quiapo in Old Manila was once considered “the most beautiful street” in the entire city. Located near historic and towering structures such as the neo-Gothic Basilica Minore de San Sebastian and the widely celebrated Basilica Minore del Nuestro Padre Jesus Nazareno, R. Hidalgo Street’s prominence was only enhanced by the presence of magnificent homes that once housed Manila’s wealthiest resided.
“In the Calle San Sebastian, later Calle R. Hidalgo, the rich of the capital could live appropriately in the high European style,” says Gonzales III. “There lived the Tuasons, very wealthy with their royal land grants since 1764, and their allied families Legardas, Prietos and Valdeses; the highly educated and cultured Paternos, rich since the 1800s and very rich since the 1860s, and their cousins, the enterprising Zamoras and the intelligent Ocampos. There were the landed Padillas, the artistic but enterprising Nakpils, and the wealthy Pampanga hacenderos, the Escalers.
“In the 1880s, the magnificent riverside community arose next to the Palacio de Malacañan in the adjacent neighborhood of San Miguel. Along this stretch of the Pasig River, grand mansions arose amidst lush tropical gardens with opulent interiors that rivaled those of European estates. But the pattern of elegant living was still inherited from nearby Calle R. Hidalgo.”
The storied Araneta mansion in Quiapo may have been forgotten due to the war, but the passion for collecting art continued at J. Antonio’s palatial Forbes Park residence. In fact, countless works of art from Luna to the Modernists have been displayed at his home, where distinguished guests such as US President Nixon, numerous foreign dignitaries and movie stars, and all heads of state have experienced the lavish hospitality of J. Antonio and Margarita. These VIPs were also sure to enjoy viewing the exceptional art collection, which includes a number of early paintings by Vicente Rivera y Mir, Jose Pereira, Dominador Castañeda and Teodoro Buenaventura.
Part of this collection is A Countryside Dawn, Teodoro Buenaventura’s early work and one of the few surviving pieces after the war destroyed most of the artist’s oeuvre. This painting is now one of the important lots to be offered at Leon Gallery’s The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction on June 11th. After hanging in the main reception room of Aranetas’ Forbes Park mansion, it was featured in Manuel Duldulao’s seminal 1977 publication. “The Filipino Art Scene.”
Mr. and Mrs. J. Antonio Araneta’s Sterling Collection is a metaphor for the couple’s exemplary lives, with each work of art revealing a different facet of their legacy.
(Excerpts from the book “1030 R. Hidalgo”, Volumes I and II.)
The Spectacular Mid-Year Auction will be presented on June 11 at 2:00 p.m. in conjunction with ANCX, the urban man’s guide to style and culture. Preview week runs through June 10, 2022 from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. For further inquiries email [email protected] or contact +632 8856-27-81. To browse the catalog visit www.leon-gallery.com. For the latest content, follow León Gallery on their social media pages: Facebook and Instagram @leongallerymakati.