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(1900 – 1984), United States

Alice Neel Biography

In her acclaimed portraits, Alice Neel captured the distinctive personality and atmosphere of her subjects, who included friends and family, artists and intellectuals, and the residents of her New York neighbourhoods.

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Early Life

Born in 1900 in Pennsylvania, Neel graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1925. Shortly after, she married Cuban painter Carlos Enriquez and moved with him to live in Havana. Neel's portraits from her time in Cuba typically show her husband and friends in their avant-garde inner circle, as well as the marginalised local community, in whom she would maintain a lifelong interest. In Mother and Child, Havana (1926), Neel uses generous swathes of browns and pinks to depict a mother lovingly holding her child.

Artworks

Alice Neel painted in an Expressionist style, experimenting with various ranges of colour palettes in her portraits.

Havana

Alice Neel's portraits from her time in Cuba typically show her husband and friends in their avant-garde inner circle, as well as the marginalised local community, in whom she would maintain a lifelong interest. In Mother and Child, Havana (1926), Neel uses generous swathes of browns and pinks to depict a mother lovingly holding her child.

New York

Upon returning to the United States in 1927, Neel and Enriquez settled in New York. Their marriage did not last long: after the death of their first child to diphtheria, the artist suffered a nervous breakdown; Enriquez left her three years later, taking their second child with him back to Cuba. Neel spent the following year in a mental asylum, during which 'a deep, psychological charge' took over her works, as Sharmistha Ray wrote in an article for Ocula Magazine. Compared to her earlier portrait of a mother and child in Havana, Degenerate Madonna (1930) is rendered in cold blues and greys. It features a melancholic mother dressed in black with exposed, sagging breasts accompanied by her young child, who has an alarmingly large and pale head.

Neel spent much of the 1930s in Greenwich Village, painting its residents in her characteristically earnest, Expressionist style. Like many of her contemporaries, she was also a member of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. Although she painted consistently, little of the artist's works from these years survive: in 1934, her then-lover, sailor Kenneth Doolittle, destroyed more than 350 of her paintings in a jealous rage.

Harlem, Upper West Side, and Recognition

In 1938, Neel moved to Spanish Harlem for a change of atmosphere, where she encountered the immigrant families who came to frequent her portraits. Whether anonymous (Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959) or named (Elsie Rubens, 1960), the artist's subjects are painted with the same interiority and intensity of character.

Neel relocated to the Upper West Side in 1962, residing there until her death in 1984. There, she began to obtain greater attention than she had previously received, going on to hold a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974. Works from this later period of Neel's life include well-known artistic and cultural figures, such as Robert Smithson (1962), and the famous portrait of Andy Warhol (1970) after Valerie Solanas shot him two years prior.

Neel also continued to paint her friends, family, and the overlooked, challenging notions of acceptability in portraiture. Among her most daring works is Self-Portrait (1980), painted when the artist was 80. In it, Neel appears nude and seated in a sofa, revealing a non-idealised, aged female body rarely represented in society.

Exhibitions

With a career spanning six decades, Neel has been the subject of numerous retrospective and major solo exhibitions.

Examples include Alice Neel: People Come First, a survey at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2021; Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, which traveled throughout Europe between 2016 and 2018; and Uptown, a solo exhibition curated by the Pulitzer Prize winner Hilton Als for David Zwirner New York, which also went on view at Victoria Miro's Venice and London locations in 2017. Alice Neel: Painted Truths, organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, travelled to Whitechapel Gallery, London, and the Moderna Museet Malmo, Sweden, in 2010. In 2022, Centre Pompidou is to present the solo exhibition Alice Neel: Un regard engagé in Paris.

Select group exhibitions include MOTHER! Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark (2021); Winterreise, Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (2020); Monuments to Us, Museum of Fine Arts Boston (2018); Histórias da sexualidade/Histories of Sexuality, São Paulo Museum of Art (2017); First Light: A Decade of Collecting at the ICA, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2016); Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible, Met Breuer, New York (2016); America Is Hard to See, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2015); Face Value: Portraiture in the Age of Abstraction, National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C. (2014).

Neel's work was also part of Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a group exhibition that travelled to Tate Modern, London; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Arkansas; Brooklyn Museum, New York; and The Broad, Los Angeles, between 2017 and 2019.

Website

Alice Neel's website can be found here.

Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2021

Alice Neel
featured artworks

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Sam in Checkered Shirt by Alice Neel contemporary artwork painting
Alice Neel Sam in Checkered Shirt, 1952 Oil on canvas
91.4 x 66 cm
Victoria Miro Request Price & Availability
Kris Kirsten by Alice Neel contemporary artwork painting
Alice Neel Kris Kirsten, 1971 Oil on canvas
121.6 x 76.2 cm
David Zwirner Request Price & Availability
A Quiet Summer's Day by Alice Neel contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Alice Neel A Quiet Summer's Day, c. 1963 Ink and gouache on paper
34.9 x 27.6 cm
David Zwirner Request Price & Availability
Sunset, Riverside Drive by Alice Neel contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Alice Neel Sunset, Riverside Drive, 1957 Oil on canvas
127.3 x 65.4 cm
David Zwirner
The Family by Alice Neel contemporary artwork print
Alice Neel The Family, 1982 Lithograph on paper
80 x 68.6 cm
Asia Art Archive
Sally Noblet by Alice Neel contemporary artwork painting
Alice Neel Sally Noblet, 1964 Oil on canvas
94 x 66 cm
Xavier Hufkens Request Price & Availability
Leaves by Alice Neel contemporary artwork works on paper, drawing
Alice Neel Leaves, c. 1966 Ink on paper
28.9 x 22.2 cm
Xavier Hufkens Request Price & Availability
King Asleep by Alice Neel contemporary artwork drawing
Alice Neel King Asleep, 1954 Ink on paper
Variable dimensions
Victoria Miro Request Price & Availability
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Alice Neel
current & recent
exhibitions

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Represented by these
Ocula Member Galleries

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in New York: 19th Street, United States
David Zwirner Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris
Victoria Miro contemporary art gallery in Wharf Road, London, United Kingdom
Victoria Miro London, Venice
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