Benito Quinquela Martín was abandoned a few days after birth, with a note that said "this child has been baptized with the name of Benito Juan Martín", on March 21, 1890, in the Foundling Children's House (Casa Cuna), located on Av. Montes de Oca 40, in the Barracas neighborhood. And there he set his date of birth by approximation: March 1. That day he would celebrate his birthday until the end of his existence. He lived in that orphanage during his early years.
At the age of eight, the Chinchella couple came into his life. His adoptive father, Manuel, was Genoese and raised in Olavarría. His adoptive mother, Justina Molina, was from Entre Ríos, from Gualeguaychú and of indigenous descent. Benito acquired the surname "Chinchella" from his adoptive father, which would later be phoneticized into Spanish as Quinquela.
His adoptive parents had a very modest coal shop, on 1500 Irala Street. Benito attended Primary School No. 4 for two years, located precisely on what is now 1081 Benito Quinquela Martín Street, where he completed the third grade. and learned basic knowledge: reading, writing and mathematical notions. Then he had to leave due to the financial situation of his family. According to him, the knowledge acquired allowed him not to be scammed. He began working as a collaborator in the coal factory, and as a teenager, he helped his father in the port as a stevedore. "The dockers were the omnipresent subject in his painting, a universe that he knew deep inside, what the hope of work was and also the hard suffering that it meant," explains Víctor Fernández, director of the "Benito Quinquela Martín" Museum of Fine Arts. ”.
The La Boca neighborhood was his inspiring muse. La Boca was a labyrinth of meanings, not only because of the mixture of languages, but because of the multiplicity of cultures. There were Italians, Japanese, Chinese, Yugoslavs, Greeks, Turks, blacks, etc.
The incessant hustle and bustle of the port's work, a landscape that was unlike any other in the city of Buenos Aires, the landscape of the river, the wildest environments of Maciel Island and some parts of La Boca, the colorful architecture Boquense, originated the eternal romance between La Boca and Quinquela.
In that multicolored neighborhood, in every sense, culture was part of daily life. Well, the presence of artisans, carvers and sculptors was natural. The exercise of art was an everyday thing. Benito divided his time between the coalyard and work in the port, he scribbled, rehearsed, some drawings, with the coal from the coalyard, as he himself was going to admit, “with an encyclopedic ignorance.”
In 1904 the family moved to 970 Magallanes Street, an area where social militancy was popular and politics seemed to be the way to build a better future. Then unions, guilds and educational centers were born. Benito began to participate in the campaign of Alfredo Palacios, candidate to be the first socialist deputy in Latin America. Quinquela, at 14 years old, took up the first brush in his life by putting up posters, he also distributed leaflets and leftist manifestos to earn a few pesos.
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His vocation with the brush was affirmed with entry to the Pezzini-Stiatessi academy, one of the many proletarian institutions in the neighborhood. Various disciplines were taught there, including drawing and painting, and there he adopted the only teacher he would have in life: Alfredo Lázari. With him begins the definitive orientation of Quinquela's vocation.
"Quinquela's paintings are not landscapes but scenarios. The scene of work, of effort, of the transformation of human work. El Riachuelo is the trigger of that great work that results in thriving cities, in dreams of progress," as he defines Víctor Fernández, director of the Benito Quinquela Martín Museum. According to Víctor, it is very difficult to find objects or places directly referenced in his work. "His paintings of him reflect a total perception of the neighborhood," he explains. "Quinquela mixes in the paintings things that he had seen or had been told, things from his past, records of what he saw through the window, as well as things that never existed in the neighborhood but that prefigured what he thought was going to happen. be the future in the area".
"The Mouth that he creates in his paintings is a great fiction, a great invention, with such power, with such authenticity that it makes us all convinced that La Boca was really the way he painted it. He is going to transform it like he did." He wanted it to be, with those great urban interventions such as the painting of the cranes, of the winches, of the streets, the great creation of the landscape that is Caminito Street. He expressed "La Boca is an invention of mine", an invention that took root very deeply, in an absolute knowledge of the cultural roots of their neighborhood.
Quinquela's work is divided into large series: Bright Days, Gray Days, the Fire series and Ship Cemeteries. In all of them the Boca landscape will appear in some way and when it moves too far from reality it puts a “real” element on the horizon to put us back in the neighborhood: the dome of the San Juan Evangelista church, some detail of the Transborador Bridge , the old Pueyrredón de Barracas Bridge.
Regarding his technique, the director of the Museum describes that the artist has an absolutely original mark, a language and his own technique, and that his great virtue is based on representation through matter: "Not only a use of color , which distanced him from many academic precepts, causing a rejection by the elites of educated Buenos Aires critics, but his representation will be based on the use of thick layers of matter that took up what was the volume of the object represented. The applied oil painting With a spatula he emphasizes those directions and those volumes.
In 1936, Benito founded the “Benito Quinquela Martín Museum”. This was built on land donated by the painter for the construction of a primary school and a museum. The museum is at Av. Don Pedro de Mendoza 1835. Quinquela had thought of the museum as a space linked to education and pedagogy, a proposal that at that time, in the 1930s, was very innovative and unique. Therefore, the complex that he put together was artistic, educational, health and social.
“The Museum of Fine Arts of La Boca of Argentine Artists” as Quinquela thought and called it, was at that time an opportunity for children to encounter the diversity of landscapes, customs and realities of our country, represented by the great references. of the art of the time.
Víctor Fernández, director of the museum, emphasizes the curator's gaze, which rescues the Quinquela collector and cultural manager. “His vision of national art was inscribed with the ideology of the traditional, the figurative and the Argentine," he says. "Quinquela set out from a different place, not creating in La Boca but from La Boca, constituting the place as a space of enunciation of a speech. He had to exhibit in Paris, in the 1920s, when Paris was the great beacon of world culture and everyone went to the workshops to look for new avant-garde innovations. But Quinquela went with another idea, that of showing his village. Not looking to bring but to take and exchange. “That can be seen in the collection.”
Art, philanthropy and meetings with friends filled his life and he had no time left for more, like starting a family.
Just as the La Boca neighborhood was his inspiring muse, Benito wanted his neighborhood and its people to progress in every way. He meddled in the stories of his neighbors in order to help them and also helped to make his neighborhood look more beautiful. Thus, in one of his many projects, the idea of beautifying a winding street in his neighborhood, which they would call “Caminito,” flourished. Its winding path was due to the fact that originally a stream flowed through there that emptied into the Riachuelo, and that had to be crossed by a small bridge, due to which that area of the neighborhood was referred to as “Puntin” or "small bridge", in dialect. Genoese or Xeneize. In 1866, the Buenos Aires to Ensenada Railway company had built a freight branch between the General Brown Station and the Muelles de la Boca Station, next to the Riachuelo. In 1898, the Ferrocarril del Sud company, passing from the center of the city through the now disappeared “Barrio de Tres Esquinas”, bought the previous one, closing the service in 1928. Later the road became a nature trail, known in the neighborhood. like "La Curva", which was deteriorating as a garbage dump.
Thus, in 1950, a group of neighbors, among whom was the painter from Boca, decided to recover the place. In 1959, at the initiative of Quinquela Martín, the municipal government built a museum street there located on Dr. Del Valle Iberlucea and Magallanes streets, with the name that the tango had given it, "Caminito": “One day it occurred to me turn that pasture into a happy street. I managed to get all the houses made of material or wood and zinc that bordered by their bottoms with that narrow little road to be painted with colors (...) And the old pasture was a happy and beautiful street, with the name of the beautiful song and A true Art Museum was installed there, where you can admire the works of famous artists, generously donated by their authors.”
The wooden and sheet metal houses that face the Caminito respond to the style of the traditional Boca tenement, a type of precarious popular housing that characterized the neighborhood since its origins at the end of the 19th century, as a center of residence for Genoese immigrants. Due to their cultural value, they are subsidized by the State, which allows them to guarantee maintenance that the scarce resources of the neighborhood's residents could not provide. They are painted in bright colors, a neighborhood custom that the prominent painter spread. In the adjacent streets, you can tour the traditional tenements of La Boca, built of corrugated metal sheets, often mounted on piles or high foundations due to frequent flooding, and painted with bright colors, just as they are maintained by their inhabitants.
Everything in Quinquela's life was planned as the happy colors of his neighborhood. Even his remains were buried in a coffin made by him, years before, because he said "that someone who lived surrounded by color cannot be buried in a smooth box." A scene of the port of La Boca was painted on the wood that made up the coffin.
Benito Quinquela Martín had a very hard life of effort and work. Even when he dedicated himself to art, he never stopped feeling like just another worker and he never took away the effort that art demanded throughout his life.
He died on January 28, 1977, at the age of 87, leaving a great pictorial, historical and cultural legacy that gave identity to the neighborhood of La Boca, and that thousands of tourists from all over the world do not want to stop admiring every time they visit. Buenos Aires. In addition, his paintings are part of the main museums in the world.
Since 2010, there has been a Monument with the painter's sculpture in front of the School Museum that he created in 1936, on Av. Don Pedro de Mendoza 1835. The work created by the artist Antonio Oriana, which celebrates the 120th anniversary of the painter's birth, is crowned by one of his phrases: "Everything I did and everything I achieved, I owe it to my neighborhood. That is why I do not consider my donations as donations, but as returns."