Alice Neel

Born near Philadelphia in 1900, Alice Neel was the foremost American portraitist and one of the most engaging painters of her times. A member of the Works Progress Administration Programme in the 1930s Neel became a painter with a strong social conscience and equally strong left-wing beliefs. These led her to move from the comfort of Greenwich Village to Spanish Harlem in 1938 in pursuit of 'the truth' and there she painted casual acquaintances and people she encountered on the street among the immigrant community. Her engagement with the art world came in the form of a series of dynamic portraits of artists and curators many of which are now in major museum collections throughout the United States. In 1974 she presented a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, an event that was repeated in 2000, marking the centenary of her birth.

Intimate, casual, direct and personal, Alice Neel's portraits exist as an unparalleled chronicle of New York personalities. Alternating between sombre and vibrant colours, Neel's application of paint could be hard-edged and broad as she addressed her subjects on canvas without preliminary sketches. The result of this direct approach is a body of work that preserves the spontaneity of initial ideas and the liveliness of the one-to-one encounter. Her paintings of mothers and babies reveal her deep understanding of their close bond while her depictions of the elderly reveal an empathy for the changes in body and mind that accompany old age. Few 20th century artists have documented the life cycle with as penetrating a gaze as Alice Neel.

Recent posthumous solo exhibitions have included Alice Neel: Intimate Relations at Nordiska Akvarellmuseet, Skarhamn (2013); Alice Neel, a retrospective that toured to the Museum of Fine Arts Houston (2010), the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London (2010) and the Moderna Museet, Malmö (2010-11); Collector of Souls at the Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2008) and Alice Neel, organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art that travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art (2000). Her work is in the collections of major museums including the Art Institute of Chicago; Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; Denver Art Museum; Milwaukee Art Museum; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and Tate, London.
Bella Abzug, 1976
oil on canvas, 284.5 x 162.5 x 6.2 cms 112.09 x 64.03 x 2.44 inches