Jaime Ponce De Leon on Manila’s art collectors and experts

My recent visit to the Leon Gallery where Jaime Ponce de Leon holds office, conducts auctions and exhibits all kinds of treasures, from paintings to furniture to religious icons turned out to be a tell-all afternoon with the gentleman who shocked us all with the find of the century, Juan Luna’s Hymen, oh Hymenee!

Enthralling is perhaps the best word to describe a conversation with Jaime who, when he is in the mood and just relaxing, will give you the time of his life sharing stories from his past, his forays into private homes where the best collections are kept from prying eyes, and his close encounters with the rich and powerful, the eccentric and the recluse, each welcoming into their homes Jaime who, to one and all, is a delight to be with just by being himself, eager, enthusiastic and, yes, well-informed.

Here are excerpts from our conversation, the second of three parts that allow us a glimpse into this most fascinating of lives of a gentleman recognized by many as the man of the hour of Philippine arts and culture.

THE author with Jaime de Leon.

Daily Tribune (DT): How many collectors do we have in the Philippines that keep going back to you?

Jaime Ponce de Leon (JPDL): Plenty.

DT: Can you name like twenty people?

JPDL: Ah, plenty of people. Of course, you have Paulino Que, Stanley Chan. You have Butch Campos. Sabi ko sayo, all the important collectors in town. Louie Bate, Kevin Belmonte, Olivia Yao, Toto Salgado, Rico Quimbo and Reggie Quimbo.

DT: How did you put your team together? You have Lisa Nakpil, you have Toto Gonzales. It must be a fun team.

JPDL: Very fun team. Too much fun.

DT: How did you gather the best under one roof?

JPDL: Well, in this business, you need the best people. And I’m sure Lisa is the best. I mean, I can’t think of any. I mean, she’s literally blue blood. I think that’s one essential thing. You know, because I’m in Harvard now, I’m taking a course. There are certain things that we learn there that you already know and that corroborates that what I’m doing is right. And I think that’s one of the things, that I got all the best people.

DT: So, tell me about Lisa. How did you meet?

JPDL: I’ll tell you. It’s interesting. Lisa was introduced to me by Luis  Campos, the nephew. And Lisa and I became friends. We clicked very well. I mean, Lisa’s excellent. I don’t know if anybody can do her job better.

DT: Toto naman. Were you reading his blog?

JPDL: I’m an admirer of Toto.

DT: Everybody’s an admirer of Toto.

JPDL: Yeah. Because Toto has seen so much. You know, prior to Toto, I was very close to Sonny Tinio. Sonny was adorable. Oh, Sonny. I miss him so much. Sonny said things with confidence. And Sonny saw it all. And you know what I like about Sonny, especially in the world of antiques and art collecting? The piece doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive to be beautiful. That’s why I respect him so much and admire him. Because I saw other collectors. They only wanted the beautiful. They only wanted the expensive ones.

DT: Which shouldn’t be.

JPDL: Yes. Because there is beauty in the most mundane of things.

DT: What was Sonny’s role?

JPDL: He would write about furniture and religious things. You should read our old catalog. Now, Toto writes. I mean, Toto is equally good.

DT: He’s also good.

JPDL: Very good. But Sonny writes.

DT: Can I sit down one of these days?

JPDL: Of course. You’ve got to see it. You should have seen the long table that we sold before. The table of the Arnedo family. Where the prince of Wales sat. Of course. It was a long table, and we sold it for about seven million peso, that table.

DT: Who bought it?

JPDL: I don’t remember na. But that table, all the most important collectors in the country came for it. I invited them all. Tony Gutierrez, Richard Lopez. All the most important collectors.

DT: Doctor Teyet Pascual must have passed on already by then.

JPDL:  Yes, I was a very good friend of Doc Teyet’s. In fact, his nephew Midas asked me to speak during his wake.

DT: So, tell me about Doc Teyet.

JPDL: You know, we clicked so well. Because you either had to be a friend or not a friend of his. You had to be careful of him or you might get his ire. But we clicked very well.

DT: Q: How did you first meet him?

JPDL: I think I met him through Tita Marivic Vasquez. And we immediately became friends. And of course, Mrs. Marcos and he were always together. I enjoyed their company very much. We always had dinner. I always tagged along. We even danced at the Embassy, the bar.  Our group included Mrs. Marcos and Tita Lulu Tinio. So, we’d go to Tim Yap at the Embassy and we would dance there. Sometimes, we’d go to the Manila Pen. Other times, at 168. I enjoyed hanging around with them. I didn’t have a shop yet.

(To be continued)