NEW YORK, NY.-
Benito Quinquela Martín, declared Argentinas most famous artist by Time magazine in 1953 is well represented at Christie's
Latin American Art Sale with The Bridge at Boca (Puente en La Boca) (lot 53) (estimate $300,000 400,000). Largely self-taught as an artist, Quinquela adapted an idiosyncratic Impressionism over his career, eschewing avant-garde experimentation for emotionally charged renderings of the waterfront brought to life in the bustle of ships and the hardworking dockhands attending them. Once in the possession of HRH Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, this offering depicts a lyrical and atmospheric quality registering the auspicious horizons of the modern Argentine nation and commemorates a storied diplomatic exchange. The Bridge at Boca is a tribute to the working classes of La Boca, the port district of Buenos Aires and Quinquelas native home.
Benito Quinquela Martín rarely strayed far from the docks of his native home in La Boca, the port district of Buenos Aires. His humble beginnings are the stuff of legend: abandoned at birth and later adopted by a dockworker, he grew up hustling coal, drawing with bits of charcoal before he could read or write. As his career rose to greater and greater heights, the beloved pintor carbonero generously and repeatedly gave back to the boquenses, building a local grade school and leaving a legacy of museums and a bounty of his own work, honored at the waterside Museo Quinquela Martín.
An exemplary early painting, The Bridge at Boca enjoyed a star-crossed, international history in the years immediately following its completion. In 1925, the President of Argentina Marcelo T. Alvear gave this painting to HRH Prince of Wales, Edward VIII, as an official gift on the occasion of a state visit to Buenos Aires. The Bridge at Boca later headlined the exhibition Benito Quinquela Martín, held at London's New Burlington Galleries. Quinquela appealed personally to the Crown for the loan of his painting, and its provenance was recorded in the exhibition catalogue. "Argentina--a friendly country seeking always our artistic guidance--has never before sent us an envoy so distinctly individual as Benito Quinquela Martín," Camille Mauclair remarked in a catalogue essay; condescension aside, artist and painting alike fostered Anglo-Argentine diplomacy during a time of close economic partnership. Edward ascended to the throne in 1936, only to abdicate at the end of the year--infamously, so that he would be free to marry the "woman [he] loved," the American divorceé Wallis Simpson--and the painting was then sold.
The Bridge at Boca ultimately returned to Argentina decades later, its cosmopolitan itinerary forming a fitting parallel to the immigrant community of La Boca and to the commercial enterprise of the port scene that it describes. "The port is my great theme," Quinquela once explained, advocating that "every artist should cultivate his own: the essential point is to not reconstruct the themes without reconditioning oneself at the same time, within the themes, to create new worlds without leaving the old behind." The dramatic architecture of the Puente Transbordador, a landmark of La Boca and a symbol of Argentina's industrial revolution, here signals the transformation of the harbor, whose modernization Quinquela witnessed at first hand. A lyrical and atmospheric quality pervades the scene: in the shadows of the iron bridge, dockworkers move goods between ship and shore, their activity framed by the industrial complex stretching along the waterfront and softened by the diffusion of warm light across the water. A tribute to the working classes of La Boca and to the port's all-enveloping presence in their lives, The Bridge at Boca also registers the auspicious horizons of the modern Argentine nation and commemorates, no less, a storied diplomatic exchange.
Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park
1 Camille Mauclair, Benito Quinquela Martín: Exhibition of the Works of the Argentine Painter, June-July 1930 (London: New Burlington Galleries, 1930).
2 Benito Quinquela Martín, quoted in Fermín Févre, Quinquela (Buenos Aires: Editorial El Ateneo, 2001), 4.