Alice Neel - Portrait

Alice Neel /   Alice Hartley Neel

United States 1900 - 1984

Fine Art, Painting

Alice Neel
Alice Hartley Neel
United States
April 12, 2017

One of the most appreciated artists of the twentieth century is definitely Alice Neel. This American painter gained her well-deserved glory largely posthumous. She is famous for the portraits of her family members, neighbors, lovers, bohemians, friends, and celebrities. The large credit for her success has the defiance and refusal of traditional categories like race, age, social status, and gender, but also because of her political activity. In her paintings, Alice tried to show person’s expressions, inner voices, feelings, and emotions. Apart from being a painter of people, she also depicted landscapes and surroundings. The unique brushwork, alongside the delicate and refined feel for color, allowed Neel to enter the psychological depths of her subjects and pass them on to the viewers. Unlike Willem de Kooning or Rothko, who used minimalism, abstract expressionism, or pop art in their works, the artist remained loyal to her figurative style, by making what made her fulfilled and pleased.

Alice Neel - Lushka new women home estate site world news search policy privacy, 1974
Alice Neel – Lushka, 1974 – Photo via pinterest

Alice Neel’s Education and Artistic Beginnings

Alice Hartley Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square. She was the fourth child out of five, unfortunately, the eldest died at a very young age. Her father was an accountant in Pennsylvania Railroad, while his family was the owner of a steamship company, and some members were opera singers. On the other hand, her mother was a descendant of a signer of the Declaration of Independence. After finishing the Darby High school, and taking business courses, including typing and stenography, she started to work in the civil service within the Army Air Corps. During the evenings in this period, Alice attended art classes at the School of Industrial Art. In 1921 she enrolls in the fine art program at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, although during 1922-1923 she was listed as a student of illustration. She received the Senatorial scholarship for the last three years of her studies, while she paid herself for the first year. Neel’s mentors were Paula Balano, Henry Snell, and Rae Sloan Bredin among others.

During the evenings in this period, Alice attended art classes at the School of Industrial Art

Alice Neel - Nancy and the Twins life, contact in harlem, search painted policy books in 1971
Alice Neel – Nancy and the Twins, 1971 – Photo copyright of the artist

Life Circumstances

After getting married to Cuban painter Carlos Enríquez, they moved to Havana, where they got their daughter Santillana, who died very young. A few years later, Enríquez leaves to Paris, together with their second daughter, Isabetta. This was a very emotional period for Neel that she suffered a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide. After this episode, the artist lived with a drug addicted sailor Kenneth Doolittle who at the end of their relationship burned hundreds of her watercolors and sketches and slashed more than 60 paintings. Another love affairs with the guitarist José Santiago and filmmaker Samuel Brody were also turbulent, leaving her with a son from each of them.

This was a very emotional period for Neel that she suffered a nervous breakdown, and attempted suicide

Alice Neel - women life world of Ballet Dancer like work on painting, 1950
Alice Neel – Ballet Dancer, 1950 – Photo copyright of the artist

Different Themes of Her Artworks

During the 1930’s the author lived in Greenwich Village, New York, where she painted urban scenes as a member of the Works Progress Administration. At the time, she made unique portraits of left-wing writers, artists, politicians, and trade unionists. In 1938 she moves to Spanish Harlem in order to paint Puerto Rican community, acquaintances and other people on the streets. In 1960’s Alice moves to Upper West Side. Here she had the honor to make series of portraits of artists, gallery owners, and curators like Frank O’Hara, Andy Warhol, and Robert Smithson. At the same time, she continued to create portraits of political personalities including black activists, and supporters of feminist movements. In the 1970’s she began to depict paintings of her close family, and major series of nude, which had the notion of eroticism, in regard to the female point of view. The tragedy of losing her child was present throughout her work, with the themes such as motherhood, anxiety, and the loss.

She continued to create portraits of political personalities

Alice Neel - Pregnant Woman painted Andy in harlem new home estate books painting, check privacy news
Alice Neel – Pregnant Woman, 1971 – Photo copyright of the artist

Openness to The World and Exhibitions

It was only in the 1970’s that Neel has become largely accepted, and was praised for her works. In 1974 she had a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Alice gave lectures about her art and was a role model for the feminist movement. She became a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, most valuable recognition in the USA. Besides other national awards, she received the International Women’s Year Award in 1976 and the National Women’s Caucus for Art Award in 1979. Although the artist died in 1984, the centenary of her birth was marked with a traveling exhibition held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and in many other places.

Featured image: Alice Neel – Portrait – Photo via

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Group
2017UptownDavid Zwirner, New York, USASolo
2017UptownVictoria Miro, London, UKSolo
2016Alice Neel: Painter of Modern LifeAteneum Art Museum, Helsinki, FinlandSolo
2016Alice Neel: The Subject and MeTalbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, UKSolo
2016Unfinished: Thoughts Left VisibleMet Breuer, New York, USASolo
2016Coming to Power, 25 Years of Sexually Explicit Art by WomenMaccarone, New York, uSASolo
2013Alice Neel: People and Places, Paintings by Alice NeelGallery Hyundai, Seoul, South KoreaSolo
2013To Be a LadySundaram Tagore Gallery, SingapurSolo
2013Art for Society's Sake: The WPA and Its LegacyPennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, USAGroup
2012We the PeopleRobert Rauschenberg Foundation, New York, USAGroup
2012Alice Neel: Late Portraits and Still LifesDavid Zwirner, New York, USASolo
2011Alice Neel: FamilyDouglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, UKSolo
2011Alice Neel: Men OnlyVictoria Miro Gallery, London, UKSolo
2010Painted TruthsThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USASolo
2010Self-ConsciousnessVeneklasen-Werner, Berlin, GermanySolo
2010In the Company of AliceVictoria Miro Gallery, London, UKSolo
2009The Figure and Dr FreudHaunch of Vision, New York, USASolo
2009Paint Made FleshFrist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, USASolo
2008Collector of SoulsModerna Museet, Stockholm, SwedenSolo
2007Pictures of PeopleAurel Scheibler, Berlin, GermanySolo
2007The Naked PortraitScottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, UKSolo
2005Alice Neel's WomenNational Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, USASolo
2004Alice Neel: A Chronicle of New York 1950-1976Victoria Miro Gallery, London, UKSolo
2003Pocket, Skulpturen unter der LupeGalerie Eugen Lendl, Graz, AustriaGroup
2002Pocket, Skulpturen unter der LupeVerein fur Orginalradierung, Munich, GermanyGroup
2001SeachangeKing´s College University, Aberdeen, ScotlandSolo
2001Naked since 1950C and M Arts, New York, USASolo
2000The Human Factor: Figuration in American ArtSheldon Memorial Art Gallery, Lincoln, USAGroup
2000Alice NeelPhiladelphia Museum of Art Whitney Museum of American Art New York, USAGroup
1999Rosa Fur JungsHellblau Fur Madchen, Neue Gesellschaft fur Bildende Kunst, Berlin, GermanyGroup
1999Remember AnsgarForum Stadtpark, Graz, AustriaGroup
1999Faces of Time: 75 Years of Time Magazine Cover PortraitsThe National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, USAGroup
1998Men in SuitsCheim and Read, New York, USASolo
1998Men in SuitsGalerie Simonne Stern, New Orleans, USASolo
1997Views from Abroad: European Persectives on American Art 3, American RealitiesWhitney Museum of American Art, New York, USAGroup
1996The Pregnant Nudes of Alice NeelRobert Miller Gallery, New York, USASolo
1995Face Value: American PortraitsThe Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY, USAGroup
1995The Complete PrintsThe Gallery, Division of Art, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, USAGroup
1994The Years in Spanish Harlem 1938-1961Robert Miller Gallery, New York, USASolo
1993The Portrait NowNational Portrait Gallery, London, UKSolo
1993The Portrait NowNational Portrait Gallery, London, UKSolo
1990Figuring the BodyMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston, USASolo
1989Alice Neel and Diane Arbus: ChildrenRobert Miller Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1986The Male Nude: Women Regard MenHudson Center Galleries, New York, USASolo
1985Alice Neel Perspectives seriesPortland Art Museum, Portland, USASolo
1984Elaine de Kooning and Alice NeelPhoenix Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1983Alice NeelLoyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, USASolo
1983Faces Since the 50's: A Generation of American PortraitureCenter Gallery, Bucknell University Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, USASolo
1981The FigureTibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, USASolo
1980OriginalsGraham Gallery New York, USASolo
1980Aspects of the 70's: Directions in RealismDanforth Museum, Framingham, Massachusetts, USAGroup
1979WomanHarold Reed Gallery, New York, USASolo
1978Drawings: Alice Neel, John DobbSummit Gallery, New York, USAGroup
1977Alice NeelWashington County Museum, Hagerstown, USASolo
1976American Family Portraits: 1730-1976Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USAGroup
1976Alice NeelGraham Gallery, New York, USASolo
1975Alice NeelPortland Center for the Visual Arts, Portland, USASolo
1975Alice Neel (Retrospective), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USASolo
1973Alice NeelLangman Gallery, Jenkintown, USASolo
1971Alice NeelMoore College of Art, Philadelphia, USASolo
1970Alice NeelGraham Gallery, New York, USASolo
1969Alice NeelNightingale Galleries, Toronto, CanadaSolo
1968Alice NeelGraham Gallery, New York, USASolo
1967Alice NeelMaxwell Gallery, San Francisco, USASolo
1966Alice NeelGraham Gallery, New York, USASolo
1965Alice NeelDartmouth College, Hanover, GermanySolo
1965Alice NeelFordham University, Bronx, NY, USASolo
1963Alice NeelGraham Gallery, New York, USASolo
1962Alice NeelReed College, Portland, USASolo
1954Alice NeelACA Gallery, New York, USASolo
1951Alice NeelNew Playwrights Theater, New York, USASolo
1950Alice NeelACA Gallery, New York, USASolo
1944Alice NeelPinacotheca Gallery, New York, USASolo
1944Alice NeelPinacotheca Gallery, New York, USASolo
1938Alice NeelContemporary Arts Gallery, New York, USASolo
1926Alice NeelHavana, CubaSolo