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 Stuart Egnal  (1940 - 1966)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/New York      Known for: geometric abstract painting, etching

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information is from an unidentified person using the name of "Sherry", who posted it on

A trove of Stuart M. Egnal artwork

“Have you heard of this artist,” one auction-buyer asked as he walked up to another who was checking out books on an auction table. His friend had never heard the name Stuart M. Egnal before, and neither had I.

But the Egnal surname was printed on oil paintings hung on and propped against walls, and on loads of etchings lying between gray-paper covers under a table in the back of the auction house. Under yet another table near where the two men stood were used artist brushes and squeezed tubes of paint.

Lining the walls were tables of art history books, artist biographies, exhibition catalogs and an eclectic mix of vintage and antique non-artsy books, many of which bore the handwritten name of Sylvia Egnal (and in some instances, her and her husband)  inside the front cover.

There were also notebooks penned in ink from classes that Sylvia took at the Barnes Foundation back in 1963. All of these items had apparently come from her collection.

The auctioneer wound his way through tables of other items from what he called “the same estate,” meaning, I assumed, the Egnal estate. He took a break before embarking on what felt like a vast collection of books (I was trying to imagine how large the collection was and how many books the family kept) and artwork. While I waited, I flipped through a 1952 first-edition copy of The Revolt of American Women: A Pictorial History of the Century of Change from Bloomers to Bikinis – From Feminism to Freud by Oliver Jensen.

It was a book about the changing role of women in this country. I turned page after page admiring the photos but also checking to see if any women who looked like me were represented in this history book. No. But I bought the book because of its great old photos.

Who were these people, the Egnals, I wondered. They were obviously an art-loving and artistic family. I especially wanted to know more about Stuart, because I’m always curious about artists. And there was so much of his work, and some of it was impressive. I asked one of the auctioneers, but she didn’t know much about him.  I Googled and could find only bare-bones information about either of them.

Here’s what I found out about Stuart:

He was Sylvia’s son, a University of Pennsylvania graduate who died at age 26 in 1966.  According to, he was just starting out as an artist.

In 1967, the University of Pennsylvania held a retrospective exhibition of his works. I found a  catalog accompanying the exhibit for sale on

Several local awards are given out in his name: The Print Club of Philadelphia’s Stuart M. Egnal Award. The University of the Arts’ Stuart M. Egnal Prize for Excellence in Painting. The University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Egnal Scholarship presented to a fine arts student.

In 2006, the University City Arts League held an exhibition of Egnal’s works that included paintings, sculptures, cardboard cutouts and prints – held 40 years after his death.

Uniques & Antiques in Aston, PA, the auction house that was selling his works, advertised that he was in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Egnal sketched the writer Wendell Berry for the back inside flap of his book Openings (published in 1968), which includes a poem “In Memory: Stuart Egnal.” Berry also included the poem in his 1987 book The Collected Poems of Wendell Berry, 1957-1982.

This is what I found out about Sylvia:
She was one of the founders of the University City Arts League in Philadelphia in 1965. The founders were a group of artists, collectors and students from West Philadelphia who met in a twin house on Spruce Street. The Arts League now offers classes in everything from photography to dance at that restored building, and mounts exhibitions in its gallery.

In 2009, the league held an exhibit of 45 works from Sylvia’s collection called “Hidden Gems of West Philadelphia.” It included lithographs and silkscreens by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and works by Stuart and other Philadelphia artists. 

At the auction house, Stuart’s etchings were tucked inside about 20 to 25 folders with about four per folder, each separated by tissue paper. The stack also contained some unsigned sketches.

Most of the etchings were signed on the back with dates from the 1960s. Someone took very good care of them, because 50 years later, they were as crisp as they were when they left the printmaker.

I wasn’t around when the artwork sold. But more importantly to me, I’d love to know more about the Egnals.



Response to the Above Posting from the same source

I was previewing the upcoming sale at one of my favorite auction houses when a familiar name re-appeared: Stuart M. Egnal.

I had written about Egnal and his mother Sylvia two months ago when stacks of his etchings and her books turned up on tables at the auction house. And here he was again, but this time he was represented by some very large oil-on-canvas paintings, including a multicolored tube-shaped sculpture.

The morning of the auction, I got two emails from Stuart’s niece and nephew. They had seen my earlier post, which included a call-out to anyone who could give me more information about Stuart and his mother. Then I heard from Stuart’s brother John, a retired law professor living in Connecticut. I was happy to hear from them because I love discovering artists, and then learning about them and their works.
Here’s my interview with John concerning his brother, who was two years older than he, and his mother, an artist herself who’s 99 years old:

Sylvia made life-size and larger-than-life copper and enamel flowers for more than 30 years, along with leaded glass pieces and lampshades. She stopped creating her art about five or 10 years ago. During the 1920s and 1930s, her uncle in New York was doctor to well-known artists  for whom he swapped his services for their artwork. His collection included Georgia O’Keefe, Renoir and Matisse. Sylvia inherited some of the collection.

“Art was in his blood, by nature and nurturing,” John said.

“When Stuart was a senior in high school, he went to see a Picasso exhibit and came back from the exhibit and said, ‘I have to paint,’”’ John recalled. “He was not terribly strong academically. (When he took on the art), he then painted with a passion.”

Stuart went off to college in Syracuse, but found that it did not meet his needs. Two years later, he returned home and enrolled at the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts). He spent a year studying in Italy and painting “prodigiously,” John said. When Stuart came back, he had so many canvases that he had them rolled over each other.

It was in Florence where he met poet Wendell Berry, whom Stuart would sketch for the back flap of the poet’s book Openings, published in 1968. The book includes the poem ”In Memory: Stuart Egnal” that Berry wrote after Stuart’s death.

Stuart enrolled in the graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania to seek a master’s in fine arts (which he did obtain). He painted scenes outside his studio at Penn and at his own apartment. He painted still lifes, abstracts, portraits and self-portraits. He did etchings, acrylics more than oils, and cardboard and wood sculptures. According to Uniques and Antiques, the auction house that was selling his works, he is in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Free Library of Philadelphia.

“He had lots of different styles,” said John. “Sometimes it was hard to tell what he was actually looking at.”

Two years into the program at Penn, he was diagnosed with a form of cancer. John said it grew out of radiation treatment he had been given for an enlarged thymus when he was born.

“In 1940, doctors said they could fix it,” said John. “They bombarded him with x-rays. Twenty-five years later, it showed up as a form of cancer. In the early days, they used chemotherapy.”

Stuart moved back into his mother’s house during the summer of 1965, along with John and their sister. He had good days and bad days. Sometimes the cancer was in remission, other times he was sick. He painted in a third-floor bedroom in his parents’ six-room house in West Philadelphia, where John said he would wander up sometimes. But he did not recall watching his brother paint often.

He lived about a year and a half after the cancer was diagnosed, dying in June 1966 at age 26.

“He was driven in a way that was different from anything that had come before,” said John. “He took life as it came to him. Once the artist way of expressing himself was there, it was like he had this passion and he was prolific for the years he had.”

For more than 40 years, Sylvia kept Stuart’s artwork – about 100 to 200 pieces – in her basement and in her studio in West Philadelphia. When John settled his mother’s estate last summer, he invited relatives and friends to take a set number of pieces and donated others to the University City Arts League, which his mother co-founded. The arts league had held an exhibition of Stuart’s works – paintings, sculptures, cardboard cutouts and prints – in 2006.

More than a dozen paintings are hanging on the walls of Sylvia’s home or stacked in a closet. Family members kept the best of them.

The overflow ended up at the auction house where I came across them. Three of the pieces in the recent auction were sold with a Spring 1967 catalog that accompanied a retrospective exhibit of Stuart’s works. Inside was a 1964 artist’s statement from him, which said in part:

“Music has always been a strong influence in my life and work. For about ten years I have been studying jazz and listening to the different movements as they have developed. The idea of a theme, that is a group of chord changes and a rhythm or group of rhythms in a jazz piece is exploited to the fullest extremes by John Coltrane and Group. And the variations (improvisations by the soloists) seem to directly relate to the current problem which I am working through. This idea of theme and variations is just as strong in baroque (Bach) music and also in classical music. … I have always worked in series – or thematically – variations on a theme or motif.”

Postscript: I later got a chance to meet Sylvia Egnal along with her son John, and saw some of her artwork.  She was a co-founder of the University City Arts League, which got started in 1965 when a group of women sat around lamenting the lack of a space for art classes and exhibitions near where they lived in West Philadelphia. The league still offers classes and mounts exhibitions.

“I never called myself an artist,” Sylvia said. “I never did it as a means of support.” She had a brother who did metal work and an uncle who was a collector. Her husband Michael was an attorney.

She made art because she “had the talent and the interest and she created beautiful things,” John said. “She’s very self-effacing.”

He added that his mother had a show and exhibition of about 15 of her metal flower arrangements and they sold out within 20 minutes. Some people were ready to buy more,  but she wasn’t interested in making more. ”She did it for people she cared about,” he said.

“I was fortunate,” Sylvia said. Added her son, “she did what she loved.”


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following information was submitted by Patrick Terenchin from a 1967 memorial exhibition catalogue.

Stuart Egnal



1958-1960  Syracuse University
1960-1961  Philadelphia College of Art
1961-1962  Academia Di Belli Arti, Florence Italy
                   Travelled Italy, France, England, Spain, Holland
1962-1963  Philadelphia Museum College of Art, BFA
                    Senior painting Prize
1963-1965  University of PA, Graduate School of Fine Arts, MFA
1965-1966  University of Pennsylvania, Post Grad. Fellow in Painting
One Man Exhibits:

1960  Syracuse, NY.
1964  Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts & Sciences,
          Loveladies, NJ
1965  Print Club, Philadelphia

Group Exhibits:

1960 Syracuse University
1960  Friends Central School
1964  University of Pennsylvania
1965  Independence, Philadelphia
1965  Germantown Arts Association
1965  Philadelphia College of Art Alumni Show
1965  Philadelphia Art Alliance Regional
1965  New Faces, Cheltenham Art Center


1964 Philadelphia Print Club
1964, 1965 University of Pennsylvania.


The Philadelphia Museum of Art
The National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The Free Library of Philadelphia
Friends Central School
Private Collections

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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