I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well
by William Shakespeare
Perhaps, it was fate that drew Juan Luna, the victorious soldier of Filipino art, to Maria Paz the lovely princess of the Pardo de Taveras of Paris. Luna belonged to a group of Filipino expats known as the Indios Bravos that the Pardo de Taveras entertained in their Parisian home. Among the Indios Bravos, Juan Luna was the most famous. Among the artists, he was the most talented. And the Indios Bravos, being drawn to the close circle nurtured by the Pardo de Taveras, naturally would be smitten by the lovely Maria Paz. Thus, when Juan Luna courted Maria Paz, and Maria Paz agreed to be his wife, it was inevitable that they would get married.
Yet, like the marriage of Shakepeare's Othello to Desdemona, the wedding of Juan Luna and Maria Paz Pardo de Tavera silenced the hush talk about their racial and economic differences. Maria Paz thought that his genius and prestige as a painter would more than make up for his dark skin, shortness, and lack of manners. And thus, on December 7, 1886, the brilliant Ilocano painter, Juan Luna married Maria Paz, the young, elegant, beautiful and svelte lass of the wealthy Pardo de Taveras -- a fairy tale romance that they hoped would last for all time.
But the fairy tale romance would end quickly, for like Shakespeare's Othello, Juan Luna was a jealous man. In the words of Trinidad, Luna "was jealous, fiercely jealous, like a Malayan."
Yet, how did this Filipino couple find each other in 19th century Paris?
The story dated back to 1872. Don Joaquin Pardo de Tavera, a former Spanish lieutenant who settled in the Philippines, found a little luck. Instead of getting executed by garrote like his compatriot Fr. Jose Burgos, Don Joaquin, a progressive Spaniard ahead of his time, was deported to Agana, Guam in April 1872. Burgos, Gomez, Zamora, Pardo de Tavera, along with Maximo Paterno, Antonio Regidor and others, shared the common fate of being in the receiving end of the Spanish purge following the Cavite Mutiny of that year. The bloody purge was perpetrated by newly-appointed Governor General Isquierdo who vowed to rule with the cross on one hand and with the sword on the other. Aboard the Flores de Maria, Don Joaquin and wife sailed to Guam and made it their home for three years. Others like Antonio Regidor, a prominent lawyer, would escape early and thrive in Europe. Yet, soon after Don Joaquin they made Guam their home, they would get pardoned. And the very moment he was told they were free to go, Don Joaquin arranged to leave for Paris, France, his wife, Dona Tula de Gorricho in tow, to live the rest of his days in the liberal Parisian air. In France, the persecuted Spanish mestizos from the Philippines would find the space and accommodation for their kind of politics and art.
When the Pardo de Tavera couple arrived in Paris, they knew they could make it their new home. The horror and sadness of being deportado made them yearn for the cosmopolitan life, where coffee, good food peppered with free thought and economic activity, made living comfortable, body and soul at peace. France, in the late 19th century was the home for the artists and the republicans of the world. Dubbed the era of the Third Republic, late 19th century Paris flourished with academic, business, and artistic activities that would only be interrupted by World War II in the 1940s.
After finding a place to stay, the couple sought their eldest nephew Trinidad Hermenegildo, son of Felix Pardo de Tavera, to join them so he could study in a European school. Thus, Trinidad left the University of Sto. Tomas in the Islands, where he was studying medicine, to join his dear uncle and aunt in Paris. Later, his mother Dona Juliana, and other siblings Felix, Maria Paz (Chiching) would follow them.
When Don Joaquin died in March 1884, the Pardo de Taveras chose to stay in Paris. Trinidad and brother Felix were already doctors. Trinidad also became a published linguist and expert of Malayan languages. Meanwhile, their young sister, Maria Paz, blossomed into a beautiful young lady. About the same time, the ilustrado class in the Philippines managed to send their children to Europe to obtain some education. Among them were Jose Rizal, a poet and a novelist, Graciano Lopez Jaena, journalist, and Juan Luna, painter. The Filipinos in Paris banded together and formed the Los Indios Bravos. With the Pardo de Taveras entertaining them in their Parisian home, the Indios Bravos would spend many afternoons thinking and talking about their homeland, the Philippines.
In the same year that Don Joaquin died, Juan Luna became the toast of the Filipino community in Europe. Juan Luna, born in Badoc, Ilocos Norte, sailed to Europe at the age of 20, studied painting, and got his break from the elite Salon de Paris. The Salon was a yearly exhibition run by an association of established artists mostly connected with schools of fine arts. In 1884, Juan Luna's entry, the "Spoliarium", was awarded the gold medal. Matching his apocalyptic vision with a skilled hand, Juan Luna painted the picture of the beaten gladiators in old Rome. The picture mersmerized any one who saw it. "It is something more than the mere mechanism of genius, of the art of composition. . . Luna is a thinker." one critic wrote. To celebrate the victory, the Filipino community in Madrid threw a banquet in honor of Juan Luna and Felix Ressureccion Hidalgo, another Filipino painter who won the silver medal in the same exposition.
Two years after, Luna would marry Chiching. They would make their home in Villa Dupont 28, Rue Pergolese. But they would not be happy ever after.
(To be continued)