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All You Need to Know about Juan Luna

In our neighbouring country the Philippines, there lived a legendary figure named Juan Luna, who was not only a celebrated politician, but also a renowned artist.

Although born and passed away in Asia, Juan Luna spent a long time living in the Europe, which was reflected in his works. The National Gallery Singapore gathered some of this notable works as part of their “Between Worlds” exhibition. Here’s some information about the Filipino artist.

Juan Luna was born on 23 October 1857 at Badoc, the Philippines. His family moved to Manila when he was five years old. Here was where he started to sharpen his skills in art and earned a Bachelor of Art from the Ateneo Municiopal de Manila.

juan luna

During his life, his home country was colonised by Spain. He continued his studies to Philippine Merchant Marine Academy and to the Academy of Fine Arts, while took drawing lessons from Lorenzo Guerrero, who persuaded him to pursue art.

Luna agreed, and left for Europe with his brother Manuel, who pursued music studies. Luna was not satisfied with the teaching style, hence he decided to start working with his friend, Alejo Vera, who later brought him to Rome.

It was in Rome that Luna was introduced to Renaissance movements. In 1878, his artistic talent came to the surface with the opening of the first national Demonstration of Fine Arts in Madrid. Having this as a starting point, he continues to produce greater paintings.

Juan Luna’s first major award was Death of Cleopatra, a painting of Neo-Classicism appearance, which earned a Second Class medal at Spain’s national fine arts exhibition of 1881. He gained recognition as he won this award. It continued when he won the First Class medal at Spain’s 1884 national fine arts exhibition for Spolarium, which is now considered a national treasure of the Philippines.

Juan Luna. Death of Cleopatra , 1881.
Juan Luna. Death of Cleopatra, 1881.

He brought the winning painting of Spolarium to Madrid in the same year as the Filipino and Spanish nobles made an event to celebrate his victory. His friendship with the nobles continued to the royals, even to the King Alfonso XII of Spain, who commissioned him to do a painting entitled The Battle of Lepanto.

He moved to Paris in 1885, and returned to Spain in 1887, bringing The Battle of Lepanto and Surrender of Granada to Spain’s 1887 national fine arts exhibition – both won the exhibition.

The of the curatorial of Juan Luna’ s exhibition depicted the struggle of revolution and wars that happened throughout his lifetime, as he himself has fought for the Philippines later. The Blood Compact is one of the paintings in which he expressed the depression at that time.

On the other side, he expressed his longings of peace, especially between the Philippines and Spain by making several “Espana y Filipinas” paintings, depicting the friendship of a Spanish woman guiding a Filipina woman to climb a stair.

Juan Luna - España y Filipinas (Spain and the Philippines)
Juan Luna – España y Filipinas (Spain and the Philippines)

When Luna returned to Philippines in 1894, he was arrested by Spanish authorities for being involved in a rebel army. He went back to Spain in July 1897, and returned to Manila in November 1898, where he spent his last years being a diplomat for the Philippines’ revolutionary government at the Treaty of Paris.

A year later, he died from a heart attack in Hong Kong.

Juan Luna. Nena y Tinita, 1880s.
Juan Luna. Nena y Tinita, 1880s.

The National Gallery Singapore collected some of the painter’s works for their Century of Light exhibition series, where visitors could admire Luna’s paintings of important women in his life, including his mother.

Juan Luna national gallery singapore

The exhibition is open for public until 11 March 2018.


Between Worlds is a part of Century of Light, which features two exhibitions on 19th century art. Together with “Colours of Impressionism: Masterpieces from the Musée d’Orsay“, the show displays painting styles and art movements that emerged in Europe during this era, which has proven to be an influential factor to the development of art in Southeast Asia and around the world.

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