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Benito Quinquela Martín, the artist who painted La Boca
Learn more about this iconic artist and his contribution to one of Buenos Aires’ most famous museums.
"Colour has no limits. Every colour expresses a moment, an emotion..."
 
Benito Quinquela Martín, one of Buenos Aires’ most famous artists, left his mark throughout the city, and particularly La Boca. Like a good Porteño, he dedicated his life to his grand passions, art and the neighbourhood where he lived. He found inspiration in the colours, sounds and life of the neighbourhood and in turn inspired the colour that the neighbourhood maintains today. Learning more about his life means learning more about the neighbourhood itself.

From "Mosquito" to the "Collier Painter" and finally the "Painter of La Boca". Who was Quinquela Martín?

Benito Quinquela Martín
 
Benito Quinquela Martín, 1937. Source: Argentine National Archive.

Benito Quinquela Martín was born in 1890 and spent his first seven years in an orphanage until he was adopted. His adoptive parents - his father an Italian immigrant and his mother an indigenous women from the north of Argentina - then moved to the portside neighbourhood that would become Quinquela Martín’s home.

At the time, the majority of men in La Boca worked in areas connected to the port and Quinquela was no different. Despite displaying an early ability for art, using coal from his parents’ coalyard to draw with, he only went to school until third grade, leaving to work with his father distributing coal, and then as a labourer carrying sacks in the port, where he was nicknamed “Mosquito” for his slim figure.

Thanks to the neighbourhood cultural collective Sociedad Unión de La Boca, he was able to study art in his late teens and he later began to depict the hard working life of the port. He began to attract attention and was dubbed the “pintor carbonero”, the collier painter. In 1919 the Buenos Aires Salon de Arte finally accepted to exhibit his work, and two years later he made the first of several journeys abroad to study and exhibit his work.

Finally he became known as the Painter of La Boca, the most fitting name of all for a man so dedicated to his neighbourhood. Here we pay tribute to just some stops that highlight  his legacy.

1. The scale of his legacy

Mural El Regreso de Quinquela - Barrio La Boca
(Junction of Lavadero and San Antonio, Barracas)
 
While the mural “El Regreso de Quinquela” (The Return of Quinquela) is not the work of Quinquela himself, but of the contemporary artist Alfredo Segatori, it’s an excellent tribute to the artist’s legacy in the south of the city. Located in front of the Riachuelo, the river that inspired much of Quinquela’s own work, in Barracas, the neighbourhood next to La Boca where Quinquela lived in his later years, this aerosol homage from 2013 was the largest mural in the world painted by a single artist when it was completed, covering 2,000m2. Segatori included four of Quinquela’s most famous works blending them with portraits of 70 local people, continuing Quinquela’s vision of painting the area.
 

2. The immortalisation of an icon

Estatua Benito Quinquela Martín - Barrio La Boca
(Av. Pedro de Mendoza. La Boca)
 

If there was one site to mark Quinquela Martín’s passion for La Boca, where would it be? That was exactly the question posed by Museo Maguncia when they made this plaster statue of the artist, and they chose just the right spot, the Riachuelo to one side, and opposite the colourful building of the school and museum that he donated to the neighbourhood, Of course, it’s also just metres from the Caminito, of which more later. This is the area that Quinquela sketched and painted and here he remains immortalised in this three-metre statue made to commemorate the artist’s 120th anniversary.

3. His donation to the neighbourhood

La Boca
(Pedro de Mendoza, 1835. La Boca)
 
Opposite the statue is the school and museum that Quinquela created to give back to his neighbourhood. This complex founded in 1936, includes the Escuela Pedro de Mendoza a primary school on the first floor in which all 18 classrooms have murals painted by Quinquela himself. The upper floors of the building serve as a museum not only of Quinquela’s own work but also that of other Argentine artists from the 19th century onwards. This building was also the artist’s own home and studio, and the current house-museum displays some of his personal objects.

4. A theatre for the neighbourhood

La Boca
(Pedro de Mendoza, 1821. La Boca)
 
Quinquela had a passion for all arts, and right next to the museum is the theatre that he also donated to the neighbourhood, the Teatro de La Ribera, which was inaugurated in 1971. In the entrance there are eight murals by Quinquela. The theatre hosts shows and exhibitions of all kinds and for all the family, with a lot of works for children.
 

5. Buenos Aires’ most famous street

La Boca
(Junction of Magallanes and Valle Iberlucea)
 
Perhaps the most famous street in Buenos Aires, and certainly one of the most photographed, owing to its colourful painted tenement houses, the Caminito is actually an open-air street museum that was the idea of Quinquela. It was he who in the 1950s led the initiative to inject some colour into this abandoned lane and, with the help of a range of friends, painted the old tenements in different colours and installed several artworks. The street was then re-baptised Caminito, taking the name from a popular tango written by Quinquela’s friend Juan de Dios Filiberto, another local resident.

Pride in La Boca

"La Boca is my office, my refuge and my model. Everything I’ve done and achieved is a prize for joy. In my life and in my art, I’ve also remained loyal to my people, my port and my neighbourhood."
Over the length of his career, Benito Quinquela Martín never forgot where he came from and always wanted to contribute to improve his neighbourhood, the place that so inspired him. His contributions to the neighbourhood don’t stop here. He also founded an art school, two early years nurseries, a children’s dental hospital and a municipal milk dispensary for children. The artist remains present in every corner, and every colour, of La Boca. Discover the rest of the neighbourhood’s attractions.
 

On the trail of BQM

 

Cultural lansmarks to visit:

 

Don´t miss the paintings inside this iconic stadium

 
 

Iconic Stadiums | 3. “La Bombonera”