Neel, Alice

Neel, Alice,

1900–84, American painter, b. Merion Square, Pa., grad. Philadelphia School of Design for Women (1925). She worked (1933–43) for various Depression-era government arts programs, painting many social realist canvases depicting the sufferings of the poor. In the 1960s, she began to make the portraits of artists, critics, and other art-world figures for which she is particularly known. Painted from life, closely observed, and direct and experessionistic in style, her sometimes gentle, often brutal portraits capture the essence of her sitters. In an era when abstract expressionismabstract expressionism,
movement of abstract painting that emerged in New York City during the mid-1940s and attained singular prominence in American art in the following decade; also called action painting and the New York school.
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 was king, Neel continued to paint unfashionable portraits, and her work was relatively unknown to the public. In the 1970s she turned to portraits of family and friends and to a series of nudes, and her work also gained significant public and critical attention. She has since come to be regarded as a pioneer woman artist and a modern master of portraiture.


See biographies by P. Hill (1995) and P. Hoban (2010); studies by P. Allara (1998) and J. Lewison et al. (museum catalog, 2010); A. Neel, her grandson, dir., Alice Neel (documentary film, 2007).