The decorative arts—the fine furniture, porcelain, crystal and silver, or the minute details that add verve to the lifestyles of the rich and famous— have often been overshadowed by the world records set for works of art on canvas or in stone at auction. But no longer, says Jaime Ponce de Leon of León Gallery with that mischievous twinkle in his eyes. Ponce de Leon, of course, just wound up the recent white-hot León online auction that is so popular, it’s now on its 23rd edition.
“When you have a name that’s associated with lavish style and grace, such as Nene Tuason Quimson, all things are possible. Quimson happened to be descended not just once, but twice over, from the legendary Tuasons,” Ponce de Leon explained. “She also had the personal reputation of having impeccable taste, showcased in houses across three continents. That was all in her DNA, coming from a family that’s over 500 years old and representing 20 generations!”
The result was non-stop bidding wars over her fabulous collection of vajilla (formal china), Baccarat crystal, Oriental screens and Queen Anne cabinets and an astonishing collection of objets d’art.
A pair of vases in the “Hundred Butterflies” pattern that once had decorated the guest bedroom of her home in Ascot, England, was discovered to be a rare species of Chinese porcelain and sparked the first of the feeding frenzies from both Manila and Hong Kong buyers, eventually reaping P1.5 million and making it the most expensive lamps at auction in the country.
Quimson’s haul included treasures from her home in Ascot, England, which decorated the same space as her multimillion-peso Juan Luna and Westendorp, which both set world records in their own right at the last León Gallery auction.
One of her many dinner services included a set of Sevres, the French porcelain house favored by Marie Antoinette. Covered with delicate rose bouquets and surrounded with pale green and gilt garlands, this set of plates fit to serve kings at Versailles went for P1.6 million. Even more impressive were the Imari rice and dipping bowls, fetching P4 million, destined to serve Oriental dishes worthy of entertaining the last emperor— or Premier Xi Jinping.
An astonishing lacquered and gilt Chinese screen from the 19th century, and also from Quimson’s English sala, took in P1.3 million.
But there were other treasures, from silver biscuit holders and teapot crystal warmers to trays and cocktail glasses that were snapped up non-stop. The pieces represented a bygone lifestyle of Manila’s last society swan and hit hundreds of thousands of pesos, setting mini-records on their own for each category. “It was simply remarkable,” said Ponce de Leon.
What accounted for the record results? “It’s provenance, provenance, provenance!” exclaimed Ponce de Leon. “It’s not enough to have exquisite taste—you must be well-known for having it! Everyone wanted to bring home a piece of Quimson’s impeccable reputation. Imagine dining off the same plates that the billionaire Bill Gates (her favorite bridge companion), British lords and international diplomats also supped on. Apart from being an heiress, after all, she was married to the Ambassador of the Philippines to Great Britain.”
Ponce de Leon revealed that his phone lines were abuzz for days after the León auction with other heiresses exclaiming that they had similar, if not even better, pieces.
And when an heiress sneezes, you can expect the next-door mansion to catch the sniffles, too. Swept up in the tide of manic spending was a pair of massive doors, which raked in a dazzling P3.3 million. Towering at nearly 10 feet and measuring six feet across, this 18th-century masterpiece, carved with a forest of flowers and leaves, is now officially the most expensive Philippine door at auction, according to Ponce de Leon. (It was from another Forbes Park home with a gilt-edged but anonymous name.)
Stay tuned for more high-society treasures at the forthcoming major León Gallery at its Spectacular Mid-Year Auction this June 11.