"You know it's very hard to maintain a theory in the face of life that comes crashing about you." -Alice Neel

"Born at the dawn of the 20th-century, artist and feminist icon Alice Neel was a woman ahead of her time -- a distinction for which she paid dearly throughout much of her life. She lost her first child to diphtheria, her second was taken from her by her husband to be raised by his family in Cuba. She suffered a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide and was hospitalized for nearly a year. A series of bad relationships followed. One boyfriend was a drug addict who destroyed about 60 of her early paintings. She had two more children by two different men, one of whom was physically abusive to her and their son. She isolated herself from the artistic community of Greenwich Village and moved to Spanish Harlem searching for "the truth." She was a female figurative painter in a world that was dominated by male Abstract Expressionists." (3)

'Untitled (Alice Neel and John Rothschild in the Bathroom)


"In the fifties all the men took their wives out to the suburbs and the women conformed more. There's a tendency in the human race to make people alike and the whole thing is to homogenize the world. I saw the world as difficult, I saw the pressures as terrific because you know the pressure to be normal, besides everything else that you have to do, they invented these frightful shirts that have to be laundered and buttoned and you're even supposed to put on a tie. But all those things were very difficult for me, you know, to keep up with your clothing, to keep up with all the things that regular life make you observe." - Alice Neel

'Annie Sprinkle'

'Degenerate Madonna' // 'Joe Gould'

'Dana Gordon'

'Isabetta' // 'City Hospital


'Pregnant Julie and Algis'

'Swedish Girls' // 'Gerard Melanga'

"The women's lib movement is giving women the right to practice openly what I had to do in an underground way. I have always believed that women should resent and refuse to accept all the gratuitous insults that men impose upon them. The woman artist is especially vulverable and could be robbed of her confidence" - Alice Neel

'Alvin Simon' // 'David Bourdan and Gregory Battcock'

'Hartley' // 'Nancy Selvage'

'Sam and Hartley'

'The Family (John Gruen, Jane Wilson and Julia)'

'Two Girls in Spanish Harlem' // 'Spanish Family'

'Margaret Evans Pregnant' // 'Mrs. Paul Gardner and Sam'

"One of the movement's milestone events was the first national Conference on Women in the Visual Arts, which took place from April 20 to 22, 1972, at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C. Neel didn't just attend the event; she literally left her mark. Years later, people remembered how she had to be physically "dragged from the stage," according to Mary Garrard, after showing nearly forty years' worth of slides. Then, apparently unwilling to wait in line for the ladies' room, she brazenly peed in the Corcoran's corridor. "With this aggressive, outrageous behavior, Alice Neel showed us what it might mean to be really free of feminine constraints," wrote Garrard..., comparing Neel's action to Jackson Pollock's celebrated antics -- including peeing into fireplaces." (4)

'Nancy and the Twins'

'The De Vegh Twins' // 'Marisol'

'John Perreault'

'Bennie and Mary Ellen Andrews' // 'Carmen and Judy'

'Two Girls, Spanish Harlem

'Fuller Brush Man'

"October 1955: Neel is interviewed by FBI agents, whose files show that she has been under investigation as early as 1951 owing to her periodic involvement with the Communist party. The files describe her as a 'romantic Bohemian type Communist.' According to her sons, Neel asked the agents to sit for portraits. They declined." (5)

"Neel even made a film appearance in 1959, after director Robert Frank asked her to appear alongside a young Allen Ginsberg in his classic Beatnik film, Pull My Daisy."(1)

'Andy Warhol'

"Neel married a wealthy Cuban artist, Carlos Enriquez, and the couple moved to Havana. Evidently the life there - a mansion, seven servants - didn't suit, because they returned to New York in 1927 with their small daughter, Santillana. In December of that year, aged 11 months, Santillana died of diphtheria. Holding her daughter's body in the hospital, Neel observed, "She looked fine, her eyes closed, just as if she were sleeping. Except that she was dead." Many years later, in 1970, Neel made her famous portrait of Andy Warhol, which many consider her masterpiece. It is the only picture I can think of in which the sitter's eyes are closed. This was two years after Warhol was shot and nearly killed by Valerie Solanis. Notoriously shy of his body, he is naked from the waist up, wearing a truss, the scars on his chest almost forming a heart shape. We don't know if it was Neel who suggested he close his eyes; apparently she rarely indicated poses to her subjects, so perhaps it was his idea. The portrait asks the question, is it Warhol who can't face his own mortality? And whom is Neel shutting out, herself or the viewer? Who is protecting whom? In the year of her own death, Neel was photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe. He later recorded that she asked to keep her eyes closed, "So I can see what I will look like when I'm dead." (2)

'Alice Neel' by Robert Mapplethorpe

"Neel was infamous for asking her sitters to pose nude. And when, in 1980, she finally painted her first and only self-portrait, naturally she painted herself naked. She painted what she had become, a saggy, fleshy, bespectacled granny. There is irony in the pose. Poised in her chair, brush in one hand, paint rag in the other, she is finally portrait and portraitist, both. And she sits, slightly forward, as if ready for something. Death, perhaps, but not oblivion." (2)

"I do not know if the truth that I have told will benefit the world in any way. I managed to do it at great cost to myself and perhaps to others. It is hard to go against the tide of one's time milieu and position. But at least I tried to reflect innocently the twentieth century and my feelings and perceptions as a girl and a woman. Not that I felt they were all that different from men's. I did this at the expense of the untold humiliations, but at least after my fashion I told the truth as I perceived it, and, considering the way one is bombarded by reality, did the best and most honest art of which I was capable." - Alice Neel

(1) wikipedia

(2) guardian

(3) huffington post

(4) alice neel: the art of not sitting pretty by phoebe hoban

(5) aliceneel.com biography