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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Benito Quinquela Martin

Twilight in the Shipyard, Benito Quinquela
An Argentine postage stamp bearing
a photo of Benito Quinquela Martin.
Only rarely in the 20th-century does an artist turn his entire life and career to painting a single subject. I suppose that may be simply because the choices art to great to resist frequent divergence from even a "favorite" subject. Although my own favorite area of content is portraits, relatively speaking, I've really not painted all that many of them. So in my case, the "frequent divergences" are more the norm rather than the exception. For the artist today, that's probably most often the case. Yet I've come upon just such an artist, born in 1890, a native of La Boca, one of 48 barrios making up the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires. La Boca is primarily an area of docks and shipyards. The painter is the Impressionist artist, Benito Quinquela Martin. He's best known as Benito Quinquela. He seldom used the name Martin. I've chosen to do the same. Quinquela was so much a part of La Boca, and it so much a part of him, that less than a handful of paintings do not feature boats, ships, or water. Lezama Park (below) is one of the few examples.

Lezama Park, Benito Quinquela, virtually his only land-based painting.
Fire on the docks on La Boca,
Benito Quinquela
Benito Juan Martin was an orphan, abandoned on the doorstep of a Catholic orphanage. The nuns estimated him to be about twenty days old. A note attached to his blanket listed his name and the fact that he'd already been baptized. He remained in the orphanage until he was seven at which time he was adopted by Manuel and Justina Molina de Chinchella (later changed to the Hispanic, Quinquela). By the age of fourteen the boy was working in the family coal yards while attending a small drawing school in La Boca at night. At the age of seventeen young Benito joined the Pezzini Satiates Conservatory, where he studied for the next five years. He began entering and winning local art competitions. Around 1920, Quinquela was sent as the Argentine representative to an exhibition in Rio de Janeiro where his work attracted the attention of the Brazilian President Epitacio Pessoa. Likewise, the President of Argentina, Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear, became a patron of Quinquela's work. Alvear arranged a diplomatic posting for the young artist in Madrid where he exhibited and sold two of his works.

Day in La Boca, Benito Quinquela
Casting of the Propeller,
Benito Quinquela Martin
From that point on, Quinquela became something of an international itinerant, traveling on to France, displaying and selling his work there, and then on to New York where a wealthy collector purchased two of his paintings and then donated them to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Heading home, Quinquela made a brief stop in Havana where he exhibited his work before returning to Argentina. 1929 found him in Italy where the Italian dictator, Mussolini, chose several of Quinquela's paintings for The Museum of Modern Art in Rome. 1930 found Quinquela exhibiting in London where museums there, as well as Birmingham, Sheffield, Swansea, Cardiff, and St. James's Palace, also bought works for their permanent collections.

The Old Bridge, Benito Quinquela

Benito Quinquela Martin Fine Arts Museum,
Buenos Aires
Despite the acceptance of his work internationally by collectors and major museums, Quinquela was something of a "small fish in a big pond." Back home in Argentina, quite the opposite was true. He was one of the most popular artists in the country and relatively "rich and famous" by Argentine standards. Remembering his humble roots, Quinquela became something of a philanthropist, funding a school in La Boca, a children's dental hospital, a place where women could breastfeed orphaned children, a kindergarten, and a museum, which previously served as his home (left). He died in 1977 at the age of eighty-seven.

Impression, Benito Quinquela
Benito Quinquela in his boat, painting.


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