Alice Neel: Biography

Alice Neel (1900-1984) is widely regarded as one of the foremost American artists of the twentieth century. As the avant-garde of the 1940s and 1950s renounced figuration, Neel developed her signature approach to the human body. Working from life and memory, she created daringly honest portraits of her family, friends, art world colleagues, writers, poets, artists, actors, activists, and more. Her paintings, which are forthright, intimate, and, at times, humorous, engage overtly and quietly with political and social issues. Neel's ability to depict those around her with unfazed accuracy, honesty, and compassion displays itself throughout her canvases. Calling herself a "collector of souls," Neel is acclaimed for not only capturing the truth of the individual, but also reflecting the era in which she lived.

Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and died in 1984 in New York. In 1921, she enrolled in the fine art program at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design) and graduated in 1925. 

Although she exhibited sporadically early in her career, her work has been shown widely from the 1960s onwards. In 1971, a comprehensive solo exhibition of Neel's paintings was held at her alma mater Moore College of Art and Design, Philadelphia, and in 1974, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. It was followed by a large-scale presentation of eighty-three paintings in 1975 at the Georgia Museum of Art, The University of Georgia, Athens. In 1978, the Graham Gallery, New York, organized the first retrospective dedicated to the artist's works on paper, and in 1979, a survey of her paintings was cohosted by the University of Bridgeport and The Silvermine Guild of Artists in Connecticut.

To celebrate the centenary of the artist's birth, the Philadelphia Museum of Art organized a solo exhibition of Neel’s work, which debuted in 2000 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, before traveling to the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, among other venues. In 2010, the survey exhibition Alice Neel: Painted Truths was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and traveled to the Whitechapel Gallery, London and Moderna Museet Malmö, Sweden. In 2013, a major presentation of the artist's watercolors and drawings, Alice Neel: Intimate Relations, was on view at Nordiska Akvarellmuseet in Skärhamn, Sweden. In 2016, the Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki organized Alice Neel: Painter of Modern Life, which traveled to the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, and the Fondation Vincent van Gogh in Arles, France, before concluding at the Deichtorhallen Hamburg in 2018.

The major retrospective, Alice Neel: People Come First, was first on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2021, before traveling to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, and the de Young Museum, San Francisco in 2022. Also in 2022, Alice Neel: Un regard engagé is on view at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. The exhibition will then travel to the Barbican Centre, London.

Other solo presentations include those held at National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, DC (2005); Moderna Museet, Stockholm (2008); The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin (2011); and the Talbot Rice Gallery, The University of Edinburgh (2016).

Work by the artist is represented in permanent collections that include the Art Institute of Chicago; Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Tate, London; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Since 2008, The Estate of Alice Neel has been represented by David Zwirner, where her work was presented in 2009 in a critically acclaimed, two-venue solo exhibition, Alice Neel: Selected Works and Alice Neel: Nudes of the 1930s (on view at Zwirner & Wirth, New York). Other solo exhibitions at the gallery in New York include Alice Neel: Late Portraits & Still Lifes in 2012; Alice Neel: Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978 in 2015; Alice Neel, Uptown, curated by Hilton Als, in 2017;  Alice Neel: Freedom in 2019; and Alice Neel: The Early Years in 2021. In 2022, Alice Neel: Men from the Sixties, the artist’s first exhibition in Greater China, was on view at David Zwirner Hong Kong. 

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