Camilo Egas is, along with his contemporary Oswaldo Guayasamin, on the shortest of short lists of Ecuador’s most important painters of the 20th century. His works and murals are on display in New York City, where he lived, taught and died; in Madrid, where he studied and learned; and in Quito, where he was born in 1889 and began to hone his keen sense of observation.
Not far from the San Blas neighborhood in Quito’s historical center district where Egas was born is the Museo Camilo Egas, opened in 1980, just two years after Quito’s centro historico became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site, and 19 years after the artist’s death, with the express purpose of housing a permanent collection of the Quiteno’s work in the Ecuadorean capital.
With just three spaces featuring his works –a fourth room was set aside for a temporary exhibit of contemporary art when I visited—the selection is somewhat small but packs a wallop, representing well Egas’ range and evolution in style that defined his notable career. If you want to see the work of an Ecuadorean artist whose influence has been felt well beyond the Andes, don’t miss this museum.
As the first major 20th century artist to study and document the lives of Ecuador’s indigenous people, he’s most noted –and rightly so– for his indigenist work. During his teens he lived in Quito’s Sambizo neighborhood, located on the fringes of the city, where he was exposed to a large indigenous presence and learned first hand of their exploitation and marginalization.
That exposure began what would be a lifelong passion for social justice and formed the backbone of what came to be known as the Ecuadorean School of Indigenism, which employed social realism, rather than a quaint folkloric treatment, in the depiction of indigenous cultures. Egas later studied the archeology and anthropology of the peoples, which resulted in seminal works that not only documented indigenous history, tradition and ritual, but humanized the subjects, etching a clear dignity onto their proud collective visage.
Several of his larger, sweeping works from this period are featured in the museum’s collection; most prominent are “Las Floristas”, a 1916 piece depicting four women carrying a long string of flowers, and a “ritual” series showing traditional processions and dances.
There are several Expressionist, Abstract, Neocubist and Surreal works on view as well, exemplifying the more European influences he took on during his time in Europe –most notably in Madrid and Rome– and experimented with later during his ever-evolving career.
The building itself is quite pleasant and impressive too. Dating back to the late 17th century, it includes a large open-air courtyard where workshops and lectures are held.
Financial difficulties shuttered the museum’s windows and doors in the late 1990s, but it was brought back to life by the Central Bank of Ecuador in 2003. Since 2010 it’s been operated by the Ministry of Culture and Patrimony.
Note that photography is not allowed inside the museum but is allowed in open, or courtyard areas. That’s kind of where I snapped the photo of “Ritual” from.
Museo Camilo Egas
Corner of Venezuela and Esmeraldas, Quito’s Centro Historico