Alice Neel

Alice Neel, 1900-1984, American

from an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2021:  People Come First

 

 

We have been taken on a forced march for the last 80 years through abstract and conceptual art and performance as art.  Figurative painters and realists have had a difficult time showing their work until very recently.

 

One exception is Alice Neel, a New Yorker by adoption who came to be associated with a progressive group of artists and writers at a time of large social change in the United States.

 

 

 

 

Alice Neel at her Spanish Harlem home and studio on East 108th Street, New York in 1944

 

 

 

 

Alice Neel’s work is appreciated for

the psychological acuity with which she rendered her subjects 

 

her focus on life not often painted; female sexuality, pregnancy, motherhood

 

the delicacy and forthrightness with which she represented human frailty: in grief, in illness, in nudity, in pregnancy, in poverty,  in domestic abuse, in guardianship roles of babies and small children

 

her lack (usually) of sentimentality 

 

the quality of her presence

 

A presence which sometimes seemed to have mesmerized some of her youngest  sitters:

 

 

 

 

Linda Nochlin and Daisy, oil on canvas, 1973. 

Loan from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

Her driving motive was her commitment to thr humanist principles which seek to eliminate or mitigate the effects of societal discrimination.

 

Her affiliation with Communist  ideals and with activists and artists who were members of the Communist Party merited Alice Neel the scrutiny of the FBI which began in the 1950s and did not end until the following decade.

 

 

 

 

 

Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation, 1933, oil on canvas.

  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

Her work – her belief in an inclusive commons –  gave her work, little by little, wide popular appeal, and from the 1960s onwards, critical appreciation also.

 

 

 

 

Synthesis of New York, the Great Depression, 1933, oil on canvas. 

The estate of the artist

 

 

 

The critic Hilton Als said in one review of this exhibition that he had periodically to leave the room, so overtaken he was by the impact of her rendering of a person’s way of being.

 

 

 

 

 

Still Life, Rose of Sharon, oil on canvas, 1973.

Whitney Museum, NY loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

Alice Neel painted at home because she could not, for the great portion of her working life, afford a studio.

 

 

 

 

Born in Pennsylvania, Neel received her art training in Philadelphia. 

 

There in 1924, she met and married a fellow student, Carlos Enríquez, member of a wealthy Cuban family who became influential in the development of modernist art in Cuba. 

 

In 1925 they married and the following year went to live in Cuba where their first daughter, Santillana, was born. 

 

 

 

Carlos Enriquez, 1926, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

In 1927, they settled in New York and it was there that their daughter, Santillana, died of diptheria; and their second daughter, known as Isabetta, was born late in 1928.

 

 

 

Well Baby Clinic, 1928-29, oil on canvas. 

Minneapolis Institute of Art loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

During a period in which she was separated by circumstance from both her husband and her surviving daugter, the artist descended into mental illness from which she did not emerge for more than a year and several attempts at suicide.

 

 

 

 

Suicidal Ward, 1931, Philadelphia General Hospital, graphite on paper.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

Taking their daughter, Isabetta, to Cuba, in 1931, Alice Neel’s husband continued his own art work.

 

 Never divorced, they were never again together. Without the wherewithal to contest her husband’s sole custody of her daughter, Alice Neel was able to see her daughter only twice.

 

Alice Neel’s portrait of her daughter on the first occasion seems to show the conflicted and hostile challenge of an existential drama of a daughter.

 

 

 

Isabetta, oil on canvas.

Originally executed in 1934, destroyed and repainted in 1935. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Returning to New York to continue her work after her return from the depths in 1931, Alice Neel became the lover of John Rothschild. 

 

 

 

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Portrait of John with Hat, 1935, oil on canvas. 

Alice Neel, 1900-1984, American.  Philadelphia Art Museum

 

Two watercolours during her relationship with John Rothschild were painted at a time when paintings by women on the subject of the difficulty of sexual relationships were rare:

 

 

 

 

Untitled (Alice Neel and John Rotschild in the Bathroom), 1935, watercolour on paper. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2020

 

 

 

 

Alienation, 1935, watercolour on paper. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Here José Santiago Negrón, a Puerto Rican, the father of her first son, Richard Neel, on the eve of whose birth in 1935, Alice Neel moved to Spanish Harlem. 

Three months after the birth of their son, José Negrón left them both but visited often.

 

 

 

 

 

Alice and José Negron, 1938, pastel and watercolour on paper.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

José Asleep, 1938, pastel on paper. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Harlem, 1938, oil on canvas.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

 

The artist moved to Spanish Harlem in 1938.  She lived there for  24 years and painted many of her neighbours and the environment in which they lived.

   

 

 

 

 

José, 1936, oil on canvas. Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

T.B. Harlem, 1940, oil on canvas. 

Loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 by the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC 

Carlos Santiago Negron, the brotherof the artist’s lover, depicted in painful recovery from tuberculosis which had, at this time, disproportionately affected poor people in the US.

 

 

 

 

 

In 1940, Alice Neel met Sam Brody, an activist for workers’ rights.  He was  a founding member of the Workers Film and Photo League (WFPL) dedicated to the recording of labour history from a  Marxist point of view.

 

Brody and Alice Neel became lovers and he the father of her second son and last child in the autumn of 1941: Hartley Stockton Neel.  Their liaison ended in 1958.

 

 

 

 

Sam, 1968, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

Hartley on the Rocking Horse, oil on canvas, 1943. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

Alice and Sam Brody’s relationship was complicated by the fact that he was already married and had a family.  Unknown to either woman.

 

Sam was also a jealous man, often angry who turned to violence towards the older of her two sons, Richard.  Of this, the artist was aware.

 

 

 

 

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Sam and Richard, 1940, oil pastel on coloured paper. 

 MOMA, NY loan to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Last Sickness, oil on canvas, 1953. 

Loaned by the Philadelphia Art Museum in 2021 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

A final portrait of the artist’s mother, Alice Concross Hartley Neel who was dying at the time of this portrait of cancer.

 

 

 

 

107th and Broadway, oil on canvas.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021.

24 years after living in Spanish Harlem, the artist move to an apartment on the Upper West side of Manhattan, her last home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard, 1963, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

Hartley, 1966, oil on canvas. 

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard in the Era of the Corporation, 1978-79, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist 

 

The artist’s son was working for Pan Am Airways at the time of this portrait which the artist believed showed the dehumanising and enslaving effects of corporate life.

 

 

 

 

 

Ginny, 1984, oil on canvas.  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

The artist’s daughter-in-law grieving the death of her mother.

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth in a Red Hat, 1984, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist.

The artist’s granddaughter in one of her last works

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving, oil on canvas, 1965.

  Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joe Gould, 1933, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist 

This painting of a notorious,unrepentant lecherous, character, Joe Gould, 1889-1957, of Greenwich Village life was censored from public view until 1973.

 

 

 

 

 

Pat Whalen, 1935, oil, ink, and newspaper on canvas, and detail.

Pat Whalen was a Communist activist and union organizer for the longshoremen of Baltimore, MD

 

 

 

 

 

Detail of Max White, oil on linen, 1935. 

Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2021

 

 

 

 

Kenneth Fearing, oil on canvas, 1935. 

MOMA, NY loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

Kenneth Fearing, 1902-1961, poet, editor and essayist living in Greenwich Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elenka, 1936, oil on canvas.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

 

Thought to be a member of the circle of friends and acquaintances around the artist when she lived in Greenwich Village

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philip Bonofsky, 1948, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

With Mike Gold, Communists both, Philip Bonofsky supported Alice Neel’s work and edited periodicals to which she contributed in the 1940s and 1950s

 

 

 

 

Peggy, oil on canvas, 1949. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

 

The subject had been beaten up by her domestic abuser; welts on her body; her left arm twisted in tension.

 

 

 

 

 

Death of Mother Bloor, 1951, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021. 

This was probably painted from a photograph in Life Magazine.  Ella Reeve “Mother” Bloor was one of the first feminists, members of the Communist Party, who fought for the rights of both women and workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercedes Arroyo, 1952, oil on canvas.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

A social activist in Harlem’s Puerto Rican community, Mercedes Arroyo also taught at the Communist Party-affiliated Jefferson School of Social Science which Alice Neels attended in the 1950s

 

 

 

 

 

Alice Childress, 1950, oil on canvas. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

Actress and playwright, 1916-1994

 

 

 

 

 

Georgie Arce, 1953, oil on canvas.  I don’t recall where this is. 

 

A chance encounter on a Harlem street led to many portraits of George Arce and a long friendship.

 

 

 

 

 

Georgie Arce No, 2, 1955, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

 

Dominican Boys on 108th Street, oil on canvas, 1955. 

Loaned by the Tate Gallery, London to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spanish Boy, 1955, oil on canvas. 

Loaned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 by the Museum of the City of New York

 

 

 

 

 

Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959, oil on canvas. 

Loaned by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

Antonia and Carmen Encarnacion were the artist’s neighbours in Spanish Harlem

 

 

 

 

 

 

Randall in Extremis, 1960, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist 

Harrell Randall Bailey, who also worked for several decades at the Met.  It is not known what ailed him.

 

 

 

 

 

The Black Boys, 1967, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum in 2021 

Toby and Jeff Neal visiting the artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richard Gibbs, 1968, oil on canvas. 

Private loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Marxist Girl (Irene Peslikis), 1972, oil on canvas.  Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

A foremost feminist whose work Alice Neel supported even if she did not go along with all the emphases of this second generation of feminists.

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie Curtis as a boy, oil on canvas, 1972.

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Jackie Curtis and Ritta Red, 1970, oil on canvas. 

Loan by the Cleveland Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2021

Jackie Curtis, 1947-1985, was a prominent member of the counterculture scene of Manhattan’s Lower East side and later in his life in Andy Warhol’s circle.  Ritta Redd sometimes collaborated with Jackie Curtis.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adrienne Rich, 1973, ink on paper. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 2021

Poet, feminist, 1929-2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mike Gold, 1952, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist. 

 

With Philip Bonofsky, Communists both, Mike Gold supported Alice Neel’s work and edited periodicals to which she contributed in the 1940s and 1950s

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Smithson, 1962, oil on canvas. 

Private Foundation loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021 

 

Sculptor and land artist, 1938-1973

 

 

 

 

 

 

Draftee (James Hunter), 1965, oil on canvas. 

Comma  Foundation, Belgium loan to the Metropolitan Museum of  Art, NY in 2021

In the year in which Lyndon Baines Johnson decided to increase the number of ground forces in Vietnam.  Mr. Hunter never returned for a second sitting and the artist left her portrait of him unfinished.

 

 

 

 

 

Henry Geldzahler, 1967, oil on canvas.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY 

Henry Geldzahler, 1935-1994 established the Department of Contemporary Art at the Met.  He thought that the artist’s work was ‘not modern enough’ until he changed his mind in the 1908s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Andy Warhol, 1970, oil and acrylic on linen.

  Loan by the Whitney Museum, NY to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

This painting belongs to the Whitney Museum 

The artist is presented here in ways which are opposite to the ways in which he normally presented himself.  His scars are obvious, as is the supportive corset which he was forced to wear after he was shot two years earlier. 

Alice Neel’s comment from 1970 is that she found him personally very kind and reticent and she hoped that shows in the economy of her vocabulary in this painting.

 

 

 

Robbie Tillotson, 1973, oil on canvas. 

Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

Robbie Tillotson, 1949-1987; an upcoming actor and artist who died young of AIDS.

 

 

 

 

 

Cindy Nemser and Chuck, oil on canvas, 1975. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

Cindy Nemser, 1937-2021, a feminist art critic and curator, was a big supporter of the artist’s work throughout the 1970s.  After significant persuasion, she and her husband agreed to pose nude for a double portrait.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geofffrey Hendricks and Brian, 1978, oil on canvas. 

Loan from the San Francisco Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

  Geoffrey Hendricks, Fluxus artist, 1931-2018 and his partner, Brian Buczak, 1954-1987, painted sitting at the artist’s kitchen table at her Upper West Side apartment

 

 

 

 

 

Ethel Ashton, 1930, oil on canvas. 

Loaned by the Tate Gallery, London to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Margaret Evans Pregnant, 1978, oil on canvas. 

Loan by the Institute of Contemporary Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Pregnant Maria, 1964, oil on canvas. 

Private collection on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY

 

 

 

 

Pregnant Julie and Algis, 1967, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Claudia Bach pregnant, 1975, oil on canvas. ?Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

 

 

 

 

 

Childbirth, 1939, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021 

Goldie Goldwasser, whom the artist met while she herself was pregnant with her son, Richard.

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Child, Havana, 1926, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

The Spanish Family, 1943, oil on canvas.  Estate of the artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother and Child, c. 1962, oil on canvas. 

Private collection loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY in 2021

 

 

 

 

 

Carmen and Judy, 1972, oil on canvas. 

Loaned by the Oklahoma City Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum, NY in 2021

 

Carmen Gordon, the artist’s long-time housekeeper when she worked in Spanish Harlem. Her child died of illness soon after this painting was completed.

Sensitive to all things Race,  the Met pointed out that it is unusual for Alice Neel to show a black or brown woman naked; and in this case, it has to be remembered that the relationship between these two women was not one of equal power.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Portrait, 1980, oil on canvas. 

Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC loan to the Metropolitan Museuem of Art, NY in 2021

 

The only self-portrait of the artist in which she is the primary (only) subject.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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