Camilo Egas


One of Ecuador’s most important 20th century artists, Camilo Egas, built the first Art Department at the New School that included on its faculty Berenice Abbott, Stuart Davis, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Lisette Model during his 30 years of directorship. Born in Quito, Ecuador, in 1889, Egas studied art in his hometown and later in Rome and Madrid. After returning from Europe in 1926, Egas played a pivotal role in founding the Indigenist Movement in Ecuador, and the art movement Pictorial Indigenism. Andean themes and the struggles of indigenous people remained the focus of his art throughout his life. He also launched Ecuador’s first art periodical, Helice.

Egas was deeply interested in anthropology and archeology. By merging European artistic traditions with local indigenous themes, he provided a new type of representation of the Indian as a symbol of Ecuador’s national identity, in line with the nationalist and modernist projects of the beginning of the 20th century in many Latin-American countries. [1] In 1927 he moved to New York City, where he befriended José Clemente Orozco. He first showed his works in the U.S. at an exhibition at the New School for Social Research in October 1931. [2] Alvin Johnson, the director of the school, invited him to paint a mural for the anteroom of the dance studio of the new building of the school at 66 W. 12th Street. “Ecuadorian Festival,” which wasn’t a true mural but rather an oil painting on canvas, was finished in 1932 and greeted dancers and choreographers working at the school such as Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey. Two other murals he painted for the school have been lost.

According to the course catalogs, Egas also taught at the New School from 1932 until his death in 1962, where he became the Director of the Art Workshops in 1935 and later Director of the Art Department. Throughout his 30 years at the New School he taught workshops in Modern Art, as well as Painting, Oil, and Drawing workshops. During World War II in 1943, he taught a class free of charge for students at the government’s request entitled “The Plastic Arts and the War.” From 1946 to 1951, he co-taught Advanced Painting and Composition with Robert Gwathmey.

Egas worked in various styles throughout his career. Beginning with Social Realism, he later incorporated Surrealism and Neo-Cubism in his oeuvre and, finally, Abstract Expressionism. In 1939 he made a mural for the Ecuadorian Pavilion of the New York World Fair, and in the following decades he exhibited his works in Caracas, Quito, and New York. He died in New York in 1962.

For more in the New School Archives on Egas’s murals, see here.

This biography was originally written for The New School Art Collection and the Parsons Curatorial Design Research Lab’s publication project.


[1] Pérez, Trinidad. “Exoticism, Alterity and the Ecuadorean Elite: The Work of Camilo Egas.” In Images of Power: Iconography, Culture and the State in Latin America, edited by Jens Andermann, William Rowe. New York, Oxford: Berghahn Books:2005

[2] “Corcoran show Opens Dec. 4.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Sep 14, 1932. Accessed October 10, 2017.


Camilio Egas in front of mural. circa 1932. The New School Mural Collection. New School Archives and Special Collections Digital Archive. Web. 02 Nov 2014.