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Despite having a disastrous personal life, Alice Neel was a feisty, audacious artist whose portraits fearlessly captured the essence of her subjects.

Like the woman, the work was often outrageous and quirky. For over 50 years she painted everyone around her including Communist Radicals and eccentrics in New York’s Greenwich Village, neighborhood families in Spanish Harlem and, later in life, art world celebrities.

Neel grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania and left as soon as she could. It was much too boring for her. In art school she was among the first generation of women artists in all of history allowed to draw nude models. She especially loved drawing male nudes. This came in handy later on.

Unlucky in love, for over 30 years she chose one loser dude after another. One boyfriend, a sailor with a charming fondness for opium, slashed and burned 300 of her artworks. Tragically, her first daughter died of diphtheria in infancy, after which her Cuban husband deserted her... taking their second daughter with him. Bereft at her loss, Neel suffered a nervous breakdown, multiple suicide attempts, and spent a year in a mental hospital.

Thank goodness she not only survived but remained a prolific painter, working no matter how awful the circumstances of her life. She often said art was her salvation. After 30 years of painting in obscurity, she finally hit it big in the 1960’s when she was in her 60’s. The art world had caught up with her. Boldly committed to figurative art, even the rest of the art world was caught up in Abstract Expressionism, she became a feminist icon and a celebrity in the art world, even making two appearances on the Johnny Carson Show.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Alice Neel

Alice Neel (January 28, 1900 – October 13, 1984) was an American visual artist. Recognized for her paintings of friends, family, lovers, poets, artists, and strangers, Neel is considered one of the greatest American portraitists of the 20th century. Her career spanned from the 1920s to 1980s.

Her paintings have an expressionistic use of line and color, psychological acumen, and emotional intensity. She pursued a career as a figurative painter during a period when abstraction was favored, and she did not begin to gain critical praise for her work until the 1960s. Her work contradicts and challenges the traditional and objectified nude depictions of women by her male predecessors. This is done by depicting women through a female gaze, illustrating them as being consciously aware of the objectification by men and the demoralizing effects of the male gaze.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Alice Neel

Comments (1)


Great paintings, tragic(ish) back story. I want to see those appearances on Johnny Carson. Five Stars...