Alice Neel

Alice Neel

1900–1984

Artist Details

Birth Place
Merion Square, Pennsylvania
Death Place
New York City
Phonetic Spelling
AL-iss NEE-ehl
Medium
Drawings and prints; Painting
Places of Residence
Colwyn, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia; Havana; New York City
Training
Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Philadelphia, 1921–25
Retrospective Exhibitions

Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, Ateneum, Helsinki, 2016; Alice Neel: Painted Truths, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2010; Alice Neel: A Retrospective Showing, University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, 1979; Alice Neel: The Woman and her Work, Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, Georgia, 1975; Alice Neel, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, 1974

NMWA Exhibitions

WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution, 2007
Alice Neel’s Women, 2005
Partners in Printmaking: Works from SOLO Impression, 1996
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1990
Women Artists of the New Deal Era: A Selection of Prints and Drawings, 1988

About the Artist

In her portraits, Alice Neel sought to reveal the inner lives of her sitters, who included relatives, neighbors, and art-world celebrities.

Neel grew up in rural Pennsylvania, but felt stifled by small town life and disconnected from her family. After graduating from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1925, Neel married Cuban painter Carlos Enríquez and they settled in Havana. She gave birth to a daughter, Santillana, the following year, but their family life was soon shattered. Santillana died of diphtheria in 1927, and in 1930, Enríquez left for Paris with their second daughter. Neel suffered a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide, and was hospitalized for six months.

After her release, she lived with drug-addicted sailor Kenneth Doolittle, until he slashed more than 60 of her paintings and burned hundreds of watercolors and sketches. Subsequent relationships with guitarist José Santiago and filmmaker Samuel Brody were also tumultuous, though Neel had a son with each.

Amid the drama of her personal life, Neel continued to paint and exhibit her portraits. She found particular inspiration from her neighbors in Spanish Harlem, where she lived from 1938 to 1962. But whether rendering her neighbors or art-world celebrities, the resulting portraits—often nudes—are unflinchingly honest and often confrontational.  

Because Neel worked in a figurative style during the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, her early work received limited attention until the 1970s. During the last decades of her life, however, Neel achieved great success, including a National Women’s Caucus for Art award presented by President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

National Museum of Women in the Arts