Exceptional Works: Alice Neel | David Zwirner
An orange title card containing the following information about an artwork: Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975, Oil on canvas, 54 x 34 inches, 137.2 x 86.4 cm.
A detail from a painting by Alice Neel, titled Olivia, dated 1975.

Alice Neel (1900–1984) is widely regarded as one of the foremost American artists of the twentieth century. While the avant-garde of the 1940s and 1950s renounced figuration, Neel developed her signature approach, creating daringly honest paintings of her family, friends, neighbors, and others in the political and cultural milieu of which she was a part.


A painting of the artist’s granddaughter, Olivia (1975) is a striking example of Neel’s ability to depict her subjects with unfazed accuracy, honesty, and compassion, capturing the physical and psychic truth of the individual at a given moment in their life. 

An installation view of an oil painting on canvas by Alice Neel, titled Olivia, dated 1975.

Alice Neel

Olivia, 1975
Oil on canvas
54 x 34 inches (137.2 x 86.4 cm)
Framed: 57 1/8 x 37 1/8 inches (145.1 x 94.3 cm)

Olivia, the daughter of the artist’s oldest son whom Neel painted several times as she grew up, is depicted here around the age of eight as a commanding presence, dressed in a green shirt that plays off a bright yellow chair. This luminosity is matched only by the strength of the child’s gaze and contrasts with the rigid wooden desk behind her.

A photo of Alice Neel with her grandaughter Olivia in 1975. Photo by Nury Hernandez.

Alice Neel with Olivia, 1975. Photo by Nury Hernandez

Alice Neel with Olivia, 1975. Photo by Nury Hernandez

A lithograph by Alice Neel, titled Mother and child (Nancy and Olivia), dated 1982.

Alice Neel, Mother and child (Nancy and Olivia),1982

Alice Neel, Mother and child (Nancy and Olivia),1982

Neel was attracted to her sitters’ individuality and the details of their mannerisms, poses, and choice of clothing. As Kelly Baum and Randall Griffey write in the publication accompanying Neel’s current retrospective, People Come First, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Neel typically represented people within her immediate circle, individuals who were near at hand, at heart, and in mind.”

On the occasion of this viewing room, The Estate of Alice Neel is making available ten editions of an exceptional print of Olivia, made in 1982.

A lithograph on paper by Alice Neel, titled Olivia and the Red Hat, dated 1982.

Alice Neel

Olivia and the Red Hat, 1982
Lithograph on paper
43 x 26 3/4 inches (109.2 x 67.9 cm)

“Children fascinated [Neel]. She loved their innocence...their acceptance of the world as it is as well as their anxiety.… She loved their dress and the way their gestures and poses anticipated those of their adult counterparts.”


—Carolyn Carr, “Mirror of Identity,” in Alice Neel: Women, 2002

A detail from a painting by Alice Neel, titled Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, dated 1959.

Alice Neel, Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959 (detail)

Alice Neel, Two Girls, Spanish Harlem, 1959 (detail)

“Neel’s genius was to make us understand not just her interest in her subjects but why we are interested in one another.”


—Hilton Als, “Alice Neel’s Portraits of Difference,” The New Yorker, 2021

An installation view of an exhibition titled Alice Neel: People Come First at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 2021.

Installation view, Alice Neel: People Come First, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2021

Installation view, Alice Neel: People Come First, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2021

Olivia was painted at Neel’s Manhattan apartment, where she set up the living room as her studio. The yellow velvet slipper chair on which she is seated is recognizable from other paintings from this period, such as Sabrina (1976) and Margaret Evans Pregnant (1978).

A painting by Alice Neel, titled Sabrina, dated 1976.

Alice Neel, Sabrina, 1976. Private Collection

Alice Neel, Sabrina, 1976. Private Collection

A painting by Alice Neel, titled Margaret Evans Pregnant, dated 1978.

Alice Neel, Margaret Evans Pregnant, 1978. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

Alice Neel, Margaret Evans Pregnant, 1978. Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston

“Let’s not forget the dazzling reality of Neel’s paintings as objects, the insistence of her color, light and … her surface textures.… In their depictions of individual beings, Neel’s images go beyond painting in her figures’ psychic honesty, they press out at us.”


—Roberta Smith, “It’s Time to Put Alice Neel in Her Rightful Place in the Pantheon,” The New York Times, 2021

"A detail from a painting by Alice Neel, titled Olivia, dated 1975.

Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975 (detail)

Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975 (detail)

"A detail from a painting by Alice Neel, titled Olivia, dated 1975.

Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975 (detail)

Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975 (detail)

“She had a very definite style; everyone looks contemporary, and each person looks anxious in their own way. I think she was wonderful on children. She made them tense, intense little kids that modern urban children are.… Fraught. Unsentimental.”


—Linda Nochlin, Alice Neel: Painted Truths, 2010

An installation view with a scale model of a painting by Alice Neel, titled Olivia, dated 1975.

Installation view, Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975

Installation view, Alice Neel, Olivia, 1975

“When Neel told her mother that she wanted to be a painter, the older woman said, ‘I don’t know what you expect to do in the world, Alice. You’re only a girl.’ Resistance can breed resilience. Talent must be protected, especially if it’s viewed as a threat. And what’s more threatening to the status quo than a visionary?”


—Hilton Als, The New Yorker, 2021

A photo of Alice Neel in her New York apartment and studio with Olivia Neel, in 1979. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Alice Neel in her New York apartment and studio with Olivia Neel, 1979. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

Alice Neel in her New York apartment and studio with Olivia Neel, 1979. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt

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