The Negrense at Leon Gallery

The Negrense at Leon Gallery

By Tats Rejante Manahan

It only seemed natural that Jaime Ponce de Leon, a true blue DumagueteƱo, would end up in the exciting yet challenging world of art auctions. All paths from the time he started as an interior designer were slowly but surely going that way as he sourced paintings and elegant furniture for his clients, eventually developing a tight mentor/mentee friendship with foremost antique collector, the late Teyet Pascual. His practice of buying for his clients and disposing of pieces they chose to change became the kick-off point to auctioneering.

Starting with an art and antiques space at Corinthian Plaza in Legaspi Village, Makati, Jaime Ponce de Leon was drawn into the trade when a friend asked him if he could help auction a collection of an insurance company’s holdings of art. Taking up the challenge he dove into it, and on January 26, 2013, his premiere auction was a “resounding success,” as Jaime gleefully reminisces. In the parlance of auction, it was a white glove sale, meaning a 100% sale.

Leon Gallery was on its way to becoming the country’s leading art auction house.

Now on his 10th year of ongoing success, Jaime looks back on his even younger years spent with his grandparents in Dumaguete, capital of Negros Oriental, to which he attributes his ease in doing business especially with the older crowd. This is evident in his auction preview cocktails where many of his guests are of an older generation with whom he enjoys discussing the intricacies of elegant choices and the genteel lifestyle of days gone by, devoid of present day social left-to-right press release positioning.

It is practically common knowledge that his latest achievement is the acquisition of Juan Luna’s long-lost painting, “Hymen, O Hymenee”. The exhibition, which opened on June 9, 2023, is now on an extended display at the Ayala Museum due to the flock of viewers. Finding the painting was, to Jaime, a persistent treasure hunt since his mentor and friend Teyet Pascual told him of its existence. In his obsession to find it, Jaime Ponce de Leon unabashedly knocked on doors of European nobility, befriending some of them until finally, that golden moment came and sooner or later, he was welcomed into “the grandest home I have ever been to,” negotiating with the owner the sale of the painting. It was eventually shipped to Manila after some years consumed by the restoration of the painting in Spain.

(Left) Jaime takes charge of supervising the restoration of a Dumaguete heritage house he recently purchased and saved from demolition. (Right) JAIME at Leon Gallery Ossorio exhibit.

It is not at all by chance that in this annual Arts Month celebration, Negros Season of Culture trained the spotlight on Jaime Ponce de Leon, owner of Leon Gallery. Just as exciting as the brushstrokes on canvas is the journey that art pieces take through auctions and gallery sales. These, too, are part of the creative industry supported by the world of fine arts.

But there is more to Jaime Ponce de Leon gracing our space this month. Negros Season of Culture has chosen him as the icon to celebrate the coming together of the two Negros provinces, Oriental and Occidental, into the same region. And for good reason: In the course of getting to know Jaime better, he narrated how his great grandfather, Mayor Demetrio Larena, was one of the “Negros Elites” who signed the documents dividing Negros Island back in 1901. Over a century later, the great grandson, heartened by his taste for elegant art and the success of Leon Gallery, helps redefine the identity of a people, no longer just descendants of Ilonggos from Panay, or cousins of the Bisaya from Cebu, but as a people who hold their own – Negrenses. Sharing a unique heritage. Having their own narrative.

Article by: Tats Rejante Manahan

Photos by: Jaime Ponce de Leon / Tats Rejante Manahan / Gerry Torres / Alan Gensoli / Dominic Lindaya

Video by: Grilled Cheese Studios

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