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Alice Neel

Alice Neel is widely recognised as one of the great American painters of the twentieth century. Her success, however, has largely been posthumous. In the past decade, interest in her work has grown exponentially, with a series of landmark exhibitions and art historical studies firmly cementing her position on the international stage.

Neel’s oeuvre is fascinating on two counts: not only was she an incredibly gifted painter, but also an astute and idiosyncratic chronicler of some of the most tumultuous decades in American history. While she also painted landscapes and still lifes, Neel is best known as a painter of people. Her sitters included artists, writers, intellectuals and family members, as well as people living on the margins of society, particularly immigrants. Deeply committed to equality and social justice, Neel was interested in the human struggle for survival, and in mankind’s capacity for resilience in the face of hardship and deprivation. With her distinctive brushwork and remarkable feel for colour, Neel succeeded in capturing the inner psychological depths of her sitters. Her commitment to truth and dedication to figuration—unfashionable during her lifetime—ensured that her work remained permanently out of kilter with avant-garde movements such as abstract expressionism, pop art and minimalism. Yet her uncompromising approach gave rise to a unique and highly individualistic body of work that continues to exert an influence on contemporary artistic production.

Alice Neel (b. 1900, Pennsylvania; d. 1984, New York) has recently been honoured with a major retrospective titled Alice Neel: People Come First at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2021); Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2021); and the de Young Museum, San Francisco (2022). Un regard engagé, a monographic exhibition organised by the Centre Pompidou highlighting the artist’s political and social engagement opened in 2022. The Whitney Museum of American Art celebrated Neel with her first retrospective in 1974 and a centennial, posthumous exhibition in 2000, which was initiated by the Philadelphia Museum of Art where it was shown in 2001. Other solo presentations include Alice Neel: Painted Truths, which was organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston by Jeremy Lewison and Barry Walker and travelled to the Whitechapel Gallery, London and Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden. In 2013, a presentation of the artist’s watercolours and drawings, Alice Neel: Intimate Relations, was on view at Nordiska Akvarellmuseet in Skärhamn, Sweden. In 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki organised Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, which travelled to the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France, before concluding at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg in 2018.

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Selected Images

Selected media

  • Katy Hessel on Alice Neel

    On the occasion of the exhibition Seeing who we are (2022)

  • Jeremy Lewison in conversation with Angela Lampe

    On the occasion of Alice Neel in New Jersey and Vermont (2018)

  • A Conversation with Jeremy Lewison

    On the occasion of the exhibtion at Xavier Hufkens (2015)