It’s hard to imagine there was a time when the hurrahs and plaudits that greeted ‘Alice Neel: People Come First’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York earlier this year would have come as a surprise to gallery-goers. Neel (1900–84) spent much of her life struggling to get on and to get by. She lost an infant daughter to diphtheria, attempted suicide more than once, was institutionalised, had hundreds of her canvases slashed by a jealous lover. Even when, in 1974, she was finally afforded a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the New York Times critic Hilton Kramer sniffed that she was ‘not the kind of artist whose work can sustain such scrutiny’.
Image: Alice Neel, Geoffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art