Date Posted: 2010-06-18 19:36:44

Eight years after it was acquired by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), the famous Juan Luna painting, the “Parisian Life,” still enjoys a rock star status in the GSIS museum, drawing a crowd of about 200,000 visitors yearly.

GSIS Museo ng Sining Manager Ryan Palad said while the GSIS Museum has been in existence for a decade and a half, it was only after when the Parisian Life was added in its collection in 2002 that the museum attained a new-found fame.

“Perhaps it was the controversy. Or perhaps it is by word of mouth that people came to realize how significant this Luna masterpiece is, not only as a part of Philippine art, but of the country’s history in general,” Mr. Palad said.

Curiously, most of the Parisian Life visitors are not art critics or collectors, but students from different levels, both from public and private schools.

Mr. Palad said it is understandable how students are easily drawn to the painting; it is, after all, an artwork not only done by a national hero but also one that shows important people in Philippine history.   

The painting features three personages that influence the course of Philippine history; Jose Rizal who became our national hero; Luna himself, who also painted the internationally acclaimed Spoliarium; and Ariston Bautista Lin, who supported the propaganda and Katipunan Movement.

“It is comparable to Renoir’s 1880 ‘Luncheon of the Boating Party’ where the artist painted his friends in their light moments,” Mr. Palad said.

The Parisian Life Painting won a silver medal in the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.  It was also Luna’s transition painting from realism to impressionism.

Parisian Life hogged the headlines in 2002 when the GSIS acquired it for P46 million in an auction held in Christie’s Auction House in Hongkong. The money was sourced from the investible funds of the GSIS for insuring government properties—not from the benefit funds of its members, Palad said.

While various groups praised the GSIS for “rescuing” the Parisian Life and bringing it back to Philippine shore, militant groups and politicians criticized this acquisition. GSIS President and General Manager Winston F. Garcia was even slapped with a complaint before the Ombudsman for it.

In charging the GSIS officials of violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act, militant groups cited a resolution of the Commission on Audit disallowing the purchase.

However, in May 2008, the Ombudsman dismissed the complaint, saying no "undue injury" was inflicted on the government because the items purchased "are right there in the hands of the GSIS and duly accounted for."

The Ombudsman also disputed the claim of the COA in the Notice of Disallowance that the price paid for the paintings were exorbitant, adding there is “no competent basis” for this.

The complainants appealed the case. Last year, however, the Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the Ombudsman.