A detail of a painting by Alice Neel. titled Elizabeth, dated 1984

Alice Neel:
Elizabeth, 1984

 

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 by creating daringly honest paintings of the people around her.  

Neel always worked from life and memory, and her ability to depict people 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.

A painting by Alice Neel, titled Elizabeth, dated 1984.

Alice Neel

Elizabeth, 1984
Oil on canvas
47 1/4 x 32 inches (120 x 81.3 cm)
Framed: 49 3/8 x 35 3/8 inches (125.4 x 89.8 cm)

Elizabeth depicts Neel’s granddaughter around the age of nine. She is the daughter of the artist’s youngest son, Hartley, and his wife, Ginny, and was painted several times over the course of her childhood by the artist. Here, leaning forward, she seems to be engaging with her grandmother as her portrait is painted. Her figure is rendered with Neel’s signature blue outline from the artist’s later period—a “charged line” by which, in the words of Helen Molesworth, “Neel lets us see that our skin is simultaneously a container and a conductor of the electric life force that is humanness.”

A painting by Alice Neel, titled Elizabeth, dated 1983

Alice Neel, Elizabeth, 1983

Alice Neel, Elizabeth, 1983

A painting by Alice Neel, titled Elizabeth in a Red Hat, dated 1984

Alice Neel, Elizabeth in a Red Hat, 1984

Alice Neel, Elizabeth in a Red Hat, 1984

“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

A detail of a painting by Alice Neel. titled Elizabeth, dated 1984.

Alice Neel, Elizabeth, 1984 (detail)

Alice Neel, Elizabeth, 1984 (detail)

“In their depictions of individual beings, Neel’s images go beyond painting in her figures’ psychic honesty, they press out at us, like an unusually tactile version of photography.”


Roberta Smith

In situ image of a painting by Alice Neel. titled Elizabeth, dated 1984.

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