Main Menu   Chronology   Murals   Portraits   Drawings   Still Lifes   Landscapes & Interiors   Illustrations   Water Colors   Pastels   Modernism   Old Age   Shows   Memoirs   About Quintanilla   Bibliography   Photographs   Aesthetic Survey   More







Neglect and Foolishness

My father often lamented the tendency for his work to be either destroyed or lost. Very little remains today of what he did before the civil war: the etchings of Madrid street scenes and life are the only significant collection from that time still surviving, and that only because Hemingway had at least one full set of the engravings in his possession.

But so great was the fascists' hatred for my father that after the war they destroyed whatever work of his they could find, even if there was nothing political about it. This meant that all those large ensembles of frescoes he had painted in Madrid and Hendaye before the war were destroyed, under Franco's orders, with the exception of that one small panel which had been installed in the entryway to Madrid's Museum of Modern Art. Somehow this fresco avoided the fascists' detection and, restored by the Ministry of Culture - it was badly damaged - it is now in storage in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Then there are the Love Peace Hate War murals. He painted these in New York for the 1939 World's Fair and fearing that the Franco government would somehow retrieve and destroy them he concocted the fictional story that they had been destroyed by a flood of water during a heavy storm. What had actually taken place was that sometime in the early forties he had installed them in the dark, out-of-the-way hallway of the Bleeker Street Cinema, an avant-garde movie house in New York's Greenwich Village, where they remained until they were discovered in the early nineties. The Bleeker Street Cinema had by now become a porno movie house and, damaged - a hole had only recently been punched through one of the panels in order to install a pipe - they now belonged to the building's owner, the proprietor of the movie house. The Spanish Ministry of Culture made an attempt to retrieve the five murals but couldn't come to terms with their owner in New York. So as of this date they still remain in his possession, hopefully well preserved and well taken care of. If the Ministry had been able to obtain them, so I've been told, they would have been restored and would be currently hanging in Madrid's Reina Sofia Museum with Guernica, in the same gallery.

Arriving in New York, after the war, in his late forties, his life's work, most of it, destroyed, my father had a great desire now to create an oeuvre. And over the next two and a half decades he worked intensely, leaving the large body of work which this web site offers a sampling of. But since he has been almost entirely forgotten as an artist his work has simultaneously been badly neglected. And that includes, I'm afraid, some of the paintings and drawings I have. All his oils need cleaning and varnishing. Some are chipped, with bits of paint flaking off. We smoked, we did, in the Quintanilla household, and a few canvases are nicotine stained. But none of this, I think, is fatal, for under the hands of an expert all of it could be restored.

My father's technique for cleaning an oil painting involved first gently wiping its surface with a soft damp cloth, then softly rubbing the white interior of a potato over the surface, then wiping it off again with the damp cloth. A method, I presume, he may have picked up in Paris in 1912. Though on occasion, over the years, I have employed this technique, I don't dare touch most of these oil paintings for some of them are more than half a century old. And while they seem to be holding their own I do not want to risk the chance of further damaging them.


Biblical Family

Oil on Canvas: 33 x 37"

Touch the canvas to see where paint has chipped off.

But this is the most shameful and foolish thing I did. Shortly after Ernest Hemingway committed suicide in 1961 his brother Leicester was in New York and visited the house. My father was living in Paris at the time and Les arrived with his usual good humor and enthusiasm and bought a few of the paintings. He was in high spirits for his biography of his brother, the first one on Hemingway, was about to be published. I was 21 at the time and we had a large collection of my father's paintings - my mother's recollection of the total conflicts with mine: hers was 107 and mine was 102: and Les offered to put them away in storage for us. My mother told him I could decide and, foolishly, trusting in the complete reliability of a Hemingway, I agreed. That day we loaded all the oils into the back of Leicester's large station wagon and took them out to the home of a doctor friend in Westchester County.

When we finally retrieved them all, in the late 1980's, at least twenty were missing and many were damaged. Some appeared as if they had been under water, though miraculously the oil painted surfaces remained pretty much intact. Les had offered to provide us with an accounting on that long-gone, hot day in July when I told him he could take them away. But, no, in a corrupt and tarnished world I could always trust a Hemingway, I thought, so we didn't even have a receipt or any accounting of what he took. One of the missing paintings might be the portrait of John Dos Passos and another may be my father's self-portrait as John the Baptist. But I can't be sure. When I retrieved them from his home in Miami Beach, in 1987, I didn't have the stomach, I'm afraid, to ask Les's widow what had become of all the paintings.

Some time ago I read an account of how Ernest once became angry at Les for his utter lack of responsibility. I don't believe Les did anything immoral or unscrupulous regarding my father's oil paintings. I was fond of Les, and liked him greatly, and was drawn by the sense of joy in life, though perhaps somewhat childish, he created whenever I was around him. But I was very foolish to have ever allowed him to take those paintings away.

When an artist is forgotten his remaining work becomes very vulnerable. Much of my father's is in storage in museums, where at least it is taken care of. God knows what has become of all the work which is in private collections, which can as easily be offered up in a garage sale as thrown into the trash. At one time he was well known and respected. But lacking a reputation as an artist doesn't allow for his work to enjoy that continuing protective insulation fame will provide against the world's great neglect. And his work is also lacking in all monetary value. Whether it is preserved or not depends upon the whims of whoever possesses it: and if that owner doesn't care for it it could easily disappear.

In the open letter my father wrote to Ernest Hemingway for his 1939 AAA show, he refers to the "illusion" Ernest provided him which he himself was lacking. Perhaps this web site will help create, based upon the actual force and power of his work, that "illusion" once again.

Paul Quintanilla





Main Menu   Chronology   Murals   Portraits   Drawings   Still Lifes   Landscapes & Interiors   Illustrations   Water Colors   Pastels   Modernism   Old Age   Shows   Memoirs   About Quintanilla   Bibliography   Photographs   Aesthetic Survey   More