With a practice spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, Alice Neel (1900-1984) is widely regarded as one of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century. Based in New York, Neel chose her subjects from her family, friends, and a broad variety of locals: writers, poets, artists, students, textile salesmen, psychologists, cabaret singers, and homeless bohemians. Her eccentric selection was thus also a portrayal of, and dialogue with, the city in which she lived. Through her penetrative, forthright, and at times humorous touch, her work subtly engaged with political and social issues, including gender, racial inequality, and labor struggles.
Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and died in 1984 in New York. In 1921, she enrolled in the fine art program at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design) and graduated in 1925.
Since 2008, The Estate of Alice Neel has been represented by David Zwirner, where her work was presented in 2009 in a critically acclaimed, two-venue solo exhibition, Alice Neel: Selected Works and Alice Neel: Nudes of the 1930s (on view at Zwirner & Wirth, New York). In 2012, Alice Neel: Late Portraits & Still Lifes marked the second solo show at David Zwirner, New York. On view February 19 through April 18, 2015, Alice Neel: Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978 presented a broad selection of the artist’s works on paper from throughout her career at David Zwirner, New York.
Although she showed sporadically early in her career, from the 1960s onwards her work was exhibited widely in the United States. In 1971, a comprehensive solo exhibition of Neel’s paintings was held at her alma mater Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia. In 1974, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. It was shortly followed by a large-scale presentation of eighty-three paintings in 1975 at the Georgia Museum of Art, The University of Georgia, Athens. In 1978, the Graham Gallery, New York organized the first retrospective dedicated to the artist’s works on paper. In 1979, a survey of her paintings was co-hosted by the University of Bridgeport and The Silvermine Guild of Artists in Connecticut.
To celebrate the centenary of the artist’s birth, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a solo exhibition of Neel’s work, which debuted in 2000 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, before traveling to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, amongst other venues. More recent posthumous solo shows include Alice Neel: Collector of Souls, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2008) and Alice Neel: Family, The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2011). In 2010, Alice Neel: Painted Truths, which thematically surveyed over sixty paintings spanning fifty-five years, received wide critical acclaim. It was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in Texas and traveled to the Whitechapel Gallery, London and Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden. In 2013, a major presentation of the artist’s watercolors and drawings, Alice Neel: Intimate Relations, was on view at Nordiska Akvarellmuseet in Skärhamn, Sweden.
Currently on view at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague is Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, a major museum survey of the artist’s work featuring approximately seventy paintings (through February 12, 2017). The show was first on view at the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki and will travel through 2018 to the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh, Arles, France, followed by the Deichtorhallen Hamburg.
Work by the artist is represented in permanent collections that include The Art Institute of Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
Image: Photo by Alan Kleinberg