Alice Neel's Benjamin: light mood, dark truth. By Skye Sherwin
By the time she painted this portrait, Neel was part of New York's in-crowd, but she spent years charting social exclusion in Spanish Harlem
Little boy blue
The great US portraitist Alice Neel's Benjamin depicts her landlord's son. Its mood, as light as a helium balloon floating away on a summer's day, was hard won.
Not a number
When Neel began painting her neighbours in Spanish Harlem in the 1940s and 50s, urban deprivation was becoming a subject for national debate. While the civil rights movement gathered pace, she painted those immediately around her, cutting through statistics by putting individuals in the frame.
Image: Alice Neel, Benjamin, 1976