Well-known for illustrating striking and commercially lucrative depictions of women of the streets of Madrid, the Filipino painter and Revolutionary activist, Juan Luna, portrays the face of seriousness and struggle in his Chula Series or Chula Studies, a succession of paintings created about the barrio-bajo women, meaning the poor-district working class women of Madrid, Spain known as the chulas.
Jose Rizal described the chulas as: attractive women with black, deep, and passionate eyes wearing mantillas and carrying fans, who are “always gracious”, full of conflagration, affection, jealousy and “sometimes” of revenge.
A Spanish aficionado of Luna’s paintings was once quoted by Graciano López Jaena, describing that Luna’s are “real chulas who stupefy” and are “free and easy chulas” that are witty and with facetiousness and swagger.
By 26 May 1889, however, in his letter to Javier Gomez de la Serna. He avowed his disillusionment with the historical canvas thus: “all historical painting is false starting with the very concept, and those who think that correct drawing, good composition, brilliant coloring and a lot of adornment are enough to make it valid are mistaken.”
This statement however, does not signify Luna’s break with the academic tradition nor his sympathy with impressionism, as many critics earlier presumed, but rather his leaving towards the more progressive faction of the Salon — “the dissident (one),” that he described on 5 May 1890 to Rizal.
Since then, aside from his large, academic paintings, Juan Luna did many small, more intimate works, including portraits. A number of Luna’s portraits show spontaneity and an elisuve, spur of the moment quality. Here, interest in the spontaneous, even unfinished qualities of a good portrait of a randomly picked female subject.
Ramon Villegas once wrote:
“These quick sketches and close in reviews of his world were done to satisfy only his own standards, to see if what he saw in his mind was as pleasing as what his brush could paint, and what his eyes could see.”