MANILA, Philippines – The Filipino people fought to recover their freedom not only with bolos and guns but also with the pen and the palette. Andres D. Bonifacio had his bolo and Emilio D. Jacinto his pen. Juan N. Luna fought for his country’s freedom using his palette and brush. Broad strokes and red color characterized Juan N. Luna’s paintings. They symbolized his readiness to shed his blood for his country’s freedom.
Born on October 23, 1857, Juan N. Luna finished his studies at the Ateneo Municipal de Manila. He went to Spain to pursue higher studies. In his foreign sojourn, he developed his artistic talents. He joined many competitions and won several major awards. His “Spoliarium” won the grand prize of the 1884 International Exposition in Madrid. Dr. Jose P. Rizal extolled Juan N. Luna’s victory. In his speech during the party to honor him and Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Dr. Jose P. Rizal highlighted the vital role artists play in advancing the interests of one’s native land. “Genius,” Dr. Rizal declared, “is the splendor of the country. Genius has no country, genius blossoms everywhere, genius is like light, the air, it is the heritage of all – cosmopolitan like space, like life, and like God. Palette and brush not only give pleasure to the eyes; they also are eloquent orators.”
Juan N. Luna was one of the many Filipinos arrested by the colonial authorities when the revolution broke out on August 23, 1896. He was imprisoned but was soon released. He went to Europe. While in Europe, President Emilio F. Aguinaldo appointed him as one of the agents of the Filipino government to solicit help from the European countries. News of his brother Antonio’s death in June 5, 1899, led him to return to the Philippines. He was also eager to return to the Philippines and fight the new colonial power. Juan N. Luna was in Hong Kong when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died on December 7, 1899.
Juan N. Luna has a secure place in our country’s Pantheon of Heroes. In winning many international competitions, he showed that the native subject can equal the colonial master. He demonstrated that the palette and brush are powerful tools in advancing the well-being of oppressed peoples.
We observe the 111th Death Anniversary of Juan N. Luna to honor a native son who ennobled his country and people. Juan N. Luna devoted his life and talents for the sake of his Motherland.