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How Juan Luna's long-lost masterpiece 'Hymen, oh Hyménée!' was found

After 132 years, Juan Luna’s long-lost masterpiece "Hymen, oh Hyménée!” has been unveiled at Ayala Museum.

Last seen in public in Paris more than a century ago, “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” has been dubbed the "holy grail of Philippine Art."

It was discovered by art collector and León Gallery founder Jaime Ponce de Leon, who followed leads and clues across Europe for 10 long years.

According to Ponce de Leon, he first heard of "this treasure" some 15 years ago.

“By then, it was the ultimate ‘Grail’ of Philippine Art. Much talked about by collectors, much revered, but nowhere to be found,” the art dealer said.

Ponce de Leon, who graduated from Dumaguete's Silliman University and later took a course at the Philippine School of Interior Design as well as classes at Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Harvard University, described the journey of recovering Luna’s masterpiece as “a race where no one would share the map.”

“The dream of finding it would thus become a tireless obsession, and I would find myself haunting galleries and dealers — famous and some infamous — all over Europe, courting old maids and befriending aristocrats, and anybody everybody in between who had some connection to Juan Luna as well as to the Philippines,” he said.

“It would always be futile, and my hopes always dashed,” he added.

He finally acquired the legendary artwork in 2014 when he received a call "and was told to be at the doorstep of a certain aristocratic, lordly home in a European city by 10 [a.m.] sharp,” Jaime narrated.

“And there I was. I could not believe what was revealed and finally lay before me. It was the ‘Grail’,” he said.

Before its unveiling, the masterpiece sat in a crate in Jaime’s storeroom, waiting for the perfect moment for its revelation.

“And so here we are, ladies and gentlemen. The time has come to unbox the ‘Grail.’ The mystery has been solved. It has been found,” Jaime said.

“Hymen, oh Hyménée!” is currently on display at Ayala Museum for “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” exhibit.

According to Jaime, recovering the long-lost Luna masterpiece and taking it home felt like an end of an era.

“[I’m] relieved but also aware that it’s the end of a long and exciting journey,” Jaime told GMA News Online.

“It feels like the first day of a new chapter, but also the last day of an old one,” he added.

Jaime said the homecoming of “Hymen, oh Hyménée!” is a reminder of how great a painter Luna was in the Philippines and around the world.

“It reminds us that the first-ever world-famous Filipino was a painter!” he said.

“This is the first time that the long-lost painting will be seen on Philippine shores,” he added. “I’m just honored that León Gallery and I were able to play a role in this very important moment, and with Ayala Museum to share it with as many Filipinos as possible.”

Just in time for the Philippines’ 125th Independence Day, admission to Ayala Museum will be free to the public on the opening day of “Splendor: Juan Luna, Painter as Hero” on Monday.

After that, admission rates will apply. — LA, GMA Integrated News