THOMASIANS got the rare chance to view Juan Luna’s controversial “Parisian Life” in the exhibit “History and Destiny” at the UST Museum of Arts and Sciences.

Along with “Parisian Life”, displayed were Lunas in the UST collection, such as “Playa de Kamakura” and “The Italian Soldier”.

“Parisian Life” became a storm of controversy two years ago when the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) bought it from Christie’s auction house for a hefty P45.4 million. Some sectors welcomed the effort as a way to protect Philippine cultural heritage, others condemned it as big spending in a time of crisis.

Since then, the GSIS Museum has toured the painting around the country. The UST Museum of Arts and Sciences is actually the tour’s final leg—a fitting finale since the UST Museum is the oldest in the country.

“Parisian Life”, also known as “Interior d’Un Café”, shows a beautiful woman lounging in a French café while three men, identified as Luna, Jose Rizal and Dr. Ariston Bautista look on in the background, as if talking about her.

Art historians have varied interpretations. One is that the woman was a courtesan who caught the attention of the three Filipino patriots.

Another interpretation centers on Luna’s personal crisis. By the time the painting was completed, Luna had to deal with the death of his infant daughter and his jealousy over his wife’s alleged extra-marital affairs involving a French doctor. Note the half-empty beer mug in table in front of the woman and the coat in the couch.

The jealousy eventually resulted in Luna killing his wife, his mother-in-law and the attempted murder of his brother-in-law. He was charged in a French court but escaped conviction.

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Luna of course became known for being the first Filipino to win the gold medal in the Madrid art exposition for his “Spoliarium” and “Battle of Lepanto” paintings. He also won the silver medal in the same exposition for “Death of Cleopatra.”

The third and most popular interpretation views the woman as the mirror image of the Philippine Islands as detailed cartographically. Supposedly, the painting shows the three patriots as they discuss the issues in their native land, shown in inner turmoil as manifested by the woman’s dour expression. So what seemed like artistic flaws like the dark neck of the woman and the placement of her head in a window joint, which has the effect of an antenna jutting out of her head, make historical sense because of the window joint line and the dark neck, it’s as if the woman is being strangled.

At the exhibit’s opening last Jan. 26, UST Secretary General and UST Museum Director Fr. Isidro C. Abaño, O. P. said, “I hope this will be another milestone in the area to be dedicated to the development and promotion of Philippine culture and the arts, which will make us proud Thomasians at 400.”

The ribbon-cutting ceremony was led by Fr. Rector Tamerlane Lana, O. P., Israeli Ambassador Yehoshua Sogi, and GSIS Museum Director UST Cultural Heritage Studies program consultant Eric Zerrudo. Ryan R. Reyes

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