9 / Portraits
|Artist / Origin||
Alice Neel (American, 1900–1984)
Region: North America
Period: 1900 CE - 2010 CE
Oil on canvas
|Dimensions||H: 60 in. (152.4 cm.), W: 40 in. (101.6 cm.)|
|Location||Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY|
|Credit||Photo courtesy of the artist’s estate. © Alice Neel|
|Ann TemkinChief Curator of Painting and Sculpture, Museum of Modern Art, New York|
Allara, Pamela. Pictures of People: Alice Neel’s American Portrait Gallery. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University Press, 1995.
Badea-Päun, Gabriel, and Richard Ormond. The Society Portrait: From David to Warhol. New York: Vendome, 2007.
Hills, Patricia. Alice Neel. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.
Hills, Patricia, and Roberta Tarbell. The Figurative Tradition and the Whitney Museum of American Art. New York: The Whitney Museum of American Art, 1980.
Temkin, Ann, and Richard Flood, eds. Alice Neel. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2000.
Throughout her long career, expressive, penetrating portraits were a vital focus of Alice Neel’s artwork.
Many of Neel’s subjects were her family, friends, and lovers, and it was important to her to represent each sitter’s character. As these images were not commissioned vanity portraits, the artist worked with a freedom that seldom resulted in strictly flattering portrayals. Strong, sinuous contour lines, informal poses, and physical distortion are typical qualities in Neel’s works. Moreover, she was known for asking people she barely knew to pose nude for her, and often took advantage of the communicative power of physical details such as body hair or genitalia.
Beginning in the 1960s, Neel produced a series of portraits featuring various players in the art world, including artists, critics, and curators. Among the best known of the series’ images is this portrait of Pop artist Andy Warhol.In 1968, two years before sitting for this painting, Warhol had been shot. The lasting effects of this ordeal fill the center of the painting—huge, dramatic scars cross his torso, and the girdle he wore to support his damaged stomach muscles is on display. Neel has painted the details of his face with great care, but the pink skin is set off by greenish shadows that give him a sickly quality. Here, we see nothing of Warhol as the pinnacle of cool glamour. Instead, he seems delicate and defenseless, exposing his damaged body with closed eyes.
As this image of Warhol attests, Neel’s portraits are not about idealized exteriors. Rather, they are about personality, intimacy, vulnerability, and relationships. While she did not sell many paintings during her lifetime, she has come to be known as a keen observer of urban life and an exemplary artist in the Realist tradition.