Regarded as one of the leading American figurative painters, Alice Neel (1900–1984) is celebrated for her distinctive portraits, landscapes, and interiors that captured elements of the American zeitgeist in the 20th century. Independent, bohemian, and socially leftist, Neel was born near Philadelphia in 1900, graduated from art school in 1925, and moved to Cuba for a brief time before settling in New York.
Neel’s artistic pursuits were grounded in the social realities and struggles of her surrounding urban environment, and heightened after she relocated from Greenwich Village to Spanish Harlem, where she would spend most of her adult life. Even in the wake of male-dominated abstraction gaining prominence in the middle of the century, Neel maintained a straightforward and unbiased approach to depicting people from all walks of life and backgrounds. Neel always remained dedicated to acutely portraying in her paintings and drawings the myriad range of human emotion found within her subjects. Describing herself as “a collector of souls,” she revealed the psychological truths about her subjects, whether close friends and art world figures or strangers she met on the street.
Alice Neel’s work was largely overlooked for over forty years until the first wave of the Feminist movement took hold, and, specifically in 1974, when she was given a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Subsequent museum and gallery exhibitions garnered her increased popularity and recognition that was long overdue, further cementing her legacy as one of the leading figurative painters who captured the spirit of her age.
Neel’s work is in many museum collections including: the Art Institute of Chicago; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate, London and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In 2020, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris will present an exhibition of her work.