A well-known Spanish muralist and draftsman, Quintanilla got caught up in the politics of his time, spending time in prison and eventually living in exile for over 37 years.Born in Santander, Spain in 1893 (some sources record the birth year as 1895), he experienced his first contacts with the arts there through his friend Gerald de Alvear and the brothers Solano. His family moved to Madrid in 1905, where he began his studies of nautical architecture, taking trips to England, Brazil, and then Paris, where he became friends with Juan Gris, and began painting in a Cubist style.
Quintanilla returned to Spain in 1915, showing his work in the first and last solo exhibition in Santander. Evolving in his style from a purely cubist language, he returned to Paris in 1920, becoming friends with Modigliani, Vlaminck, and Maeztu, as well as with writer Ernest Hemingway.
On a stipend, he traveled to Italy to study painting en plein air, returning to Madrid in 1926. He became a member of the socialist party and got caught up in the tumoultuous political events in his country during that time, culminating in his imprisonement in October of 1934 for hosting the revolutionary committee of the October revolt in his studio. With the international intellectual community rallying to his support with protests in the United States, France, and Great Britain, Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos circulating petitions for his immediate release, Quintanilla was released from prison after serving a little over eight months, and was actively involved in the Spanish Civil War which started in July of 1936.
During his imprisonement, friends had organized an exhibition of his Madrid street scenes at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in New York City, which was accompanied by a catalogue written by Hemingway and Dos Passos. This was to be followed by an exhibition of his war drawings in 1938 at the Barcelona Ritz-Carlton Hotel and then at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, again accompanied by a catalogue written by Ernest Hemingway.
He was forced into a long exile at the fall of the Spanish Republic in 1939, first living in New York and then in Paris. A year after the death of General Francisco Franco, Quintanilla returned to Madrid, where he died in 1978.