March 1st, 2014

The  Oswaldo Guayasamin Museum and Home



View from the Terrace.

“Don’t leave Quito until you have visited Oswaldo Guayasamin’s Museum and home” I was told three weeks into my stay in Quito.   How was it that after three weeks, no one else had mentioned Guayasamin and there was no reference to him in the Guide Books.   Hailing a taxi and handing over my post-it with the name Guayasim Museum and the address, the driver seemed bewildered and I was no help to him.   We kept stopping to ask people along the way,  going further out as the car ascended the narrow streets until  we found our way to the main entrance on a hillside on the outskirts of Quito.


View from the Garden – Oswaldo Guayasim


As I entered the gate,  I noted the expansive view over the valley of Quito and beyond that was to be the setting for these buildings.

Pinnacle of the “Temple of Man” and view

In front of me was the Chapel of Man, (Capilla del Hombre), the Building that held a valuable collection of Guayasamin significant artwork.  It was built to resemble a huge Inca Temple with daylight coming in from an opening in the roof.  Magnificently displayed inside were some enormous paintings, murals and sculptures.  It is forbidden to take photographs and I reluctantly obeyed.  Joined by an English speaking guide, we walked and talked throughout the entire  Exhibition, while he explained Guayasim’s life and interpreted the artwork, filling in my incomplete knowledge of the tragic events that had taken place in Latin America  that were the recorded and conveyed in these artistic representations.  The height of the walls  would equal a three story building and it encompassed a huge exhibition.  It was a visceral, emotional and gut wrenching experience witnessing the artwork and what it represented and in no way was I prepared for what I saw.

Oswaldo Guayassamin

Oswaldo Guayasamin was born on July 6th,  1919 to parents of Quechuan (indigenous) descent.   The Family was poor and except for the encouragement from his Mother, he did not receive any artistic stimulation in the Family of ten Children, of which he was the eldest.    From a young age Guayasim showed natural talent and graduated from the School of Fine Art in Quito as a painter and sculptor.  He won important International awards and exhibited worldwide from his early thirties and throughout his life, culminating in an award from UNESCO for  “an entire life of work for peace”, that was awarded to him posthumously in 1999.

Nelson Rockefellow had seen some of  Guayasamin’s paintings  when he visited Ecuador and after purchasing five works,  invited  him to exhibit at a group exhibiton at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in the 1940’s.  This is where  he became friends with Jose Clemente Orozco, a Mexican   artist exhibiting at the same exhibition.  They had many common interests and  traveled together,  to Peru, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Cuba where he met several of the leading politicians of the time    Orozco was a politically committed artist doing huge murals, representing the peasants and workers.  Guayasim was attracted to this genre as he witnessed the upheavals, cruelty,  violence, hunger and death in the countries they were visiting.

It was at this time that Guayasamin began to paint many of the works displayed in the Chapel of Man, enormous canvases, murals and sculptures depicting the struggles faced by indigenous peoples.  The human figure was presented in exaggerated forms, expressing emotions of grief, loss, pain and anguish.  His canvases show his subjects being tortured, with charred flesh, broken bones, sad faces and desolation, many with imploring, outstretched hands, seeking help that never came.  In addition to what was happening in South America, Guayasim was also very aware  of World Events and his art was blatantly honest and truthful, reflecting the injustice, misery and horror of what he saw and is very compelling.  The style is described as Expressionism, but it has strong Latin American characteristics, with dark, heavily saturated colors and black outlines.   Not being familiar with events that took place in  Latin America, it was disturbing to learn of the crimes against humanity, the suffering, incarceration and violence of this era.


In total contrast to the Chapel of Man, with its dark outer exterior,  Guayasamin’s home, painted white,  peaceful and architecturally interesting,  is built on a landscaped plateau, several meters  higher than the Chapel of Man that it overlooks.     This is where he worked and lived for the major part of his life after  completing his travels with Orozco.  Although Guayasamin had studied architecture at the same time as he studied art, it did not form part of his career.

His home, with its perfectly proportioned arches and beautiful interiors was designed by his architect brother following Guayasamin’s design directions.  It had several rooms, with extensive collections, including outstanding Pre-Colombian artifacts.  The Studio was arranged as if it was still in use, including platforms and ladders  used to complete his enormous works and his easels, paintbrushes and sketches, displayed as if he was working.  The bath room was luxurious and very modern with beautiful fixtures that would have been imported from Europe.  Walking through the house it became evident that he lived a comfortable life with elegant furniture, beautiful furnishings and worthy collections.

The landscaping was exceptional.   Courtyards were designed with carefully sorted  stone  laid in geometric designs, with repetitions of arches, some with bells suspended in the arc, a strong feature of the design.  There were sweeping, captivating  views from the house and terraces over the City and up the side of the mountains, with  ever changing cloud formations.  The interior of the house was  decorated like a living museum as if the artist  was in residence,  with his two vintage cars  parked undercover and ready.  Walking through the house, was a welcome relief after experiencing the turbulence of his art in The Chapel of Man.

Elevation of Guayasim’s Home

Guayasamin  lived out his  final days in this beautiful home, intending to complete his masterwork, the Chapel of Man before his death.  Unfortunately, three years before it was completed and opened to the public, he passed away on March 10th, 1999,  in Baltimore, Maryland, where he had gone  for Medical treatment.

View from the Garden

Having chosen his final resting place in his garden, his ashes are stored in an urn under a  beautiful tree on the lawn in front of the home he loved , overlooking the Chapel of Man and the view of Quito.



 SIDEBAR:   Guayasamin’s home and the Chapel of Man should be near the top of the “List of Things to do in Quito.”   Oswaldo Guayasamin  is the most important Ecuadorian and Latin American Artist of the Twentieth Century and is  recognized word wide.   His paintings are a window into the culture, politics and history of his time.   These events were  recorded through his art, using  acute observation and artistic talents  aided by  his many connections  in politics throughout Latin America,  that gave him access to the events as they  unfolded.  Human pain,  suffering, violence and political injustice are Universal themes that extend beyond Latin America.  Guayasim was an artist and a humanitarian and was absolutely deserving to receive the UNESCO award for “an entire life of work for peace”.

Capillo del Hombre – The Guayasim Museum

E 18 y

Sector Mariano Calvache + Lorenzo Chavez




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