spacer Alice Neel Alice Neel (1900-1984)

At the age of seventy, Alice Neel said that the closest she ever came to a self-portrait was the image of an empty chair by an apartment window. Five years later she began this shocking, endearing, and unconventional portrait, a project that took another five years to complete. A striking challenge to the centuries-old convention of idealized femininity, Neel's only painted self-portrait is wonderfully suggestive of the artist's bohemian, bawdy character.

Neel studied art at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women from 1921 to 1925. She moved to New York in 1931 after suffering a nervous breakdown and attempting suicide when her first husband, a Cuban artist, left with their only surviving child (their first child died of diphtheria at a young age). A string of lovers left Neel with two sons, a situation that made life even more challenging when her support from the Works Progress Administration ceased in 1943. Never one to conform to established norms or follow traditional paths, Neel adhered to a representational idiom in the midst of the Abstract Expressionist movement. She was consequently ignored by the art world until shortly before her 1970 exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and her 1974 retrospective at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art.

Oil on canvas, 1980
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Estate of Alice Neel

Enlarged image

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