Benito Quinquela Martín (1890-1977) is a painter not widely known in the art world of New York, London, or Paris. In Argentina, his work is a different story altogether. Martín was known primarily for painting port scenes around La Boca, which, for most of his life, was the port of Buenos Aires. Today, La Boca is primarily known for cheap souvenir shops and dancers who assume tango positions for pesos for the tourists. Near the tour buses at Caminito, however, sits the Escuela Pedro de Mendoza, which happens to contain the Museo de Bellas Artes Benito Quinquela Martín dedicated to his work.
Boca is not the nicest part of the port city, and it is no longer the port, which has been moved east. The polluted Riachuelo, also known as the Matanza, flows past the museum and the brightly colored buildings decorated with leftover marine paints and inspired by Quinquela Martín’s port views.
Aside from the tourist ghetto around Caminito and the nearby Boca Juniors football stadium known as the Bombonera, or candy box, Boca is a rough neighborhood from which tourists do not stray far. A century ago, however, it was the port of entry for thousands of Italian, Spanish, and other European immigrants who came to South America looking for a better life. And many of them found it. During the First World War, most soldiers on both sides were fed with canned beef from Argentina and Uruguay; and silent movies like The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) starring Rudolph Valentino showed the lives of Argentinian millionaires.
Today, Benito Quinquela Martín is considered to be one of the greatest Argentinian painters of the Twentieth Century; and his work in found in museums throughout Buenos Aires.