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Artists Alice Neel
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Alice Neel

American Painter

Born: January 28, 1900 - Merion Square, Pennsylvania

Died: October 13, 1984 - New York, NY

Alice Neel Timeline

Quotes

"Nobody knows what makes good art. As an artist, when it happens, you're grateful, and then you get on with it."
Alice Neel
"I do not pose my sitters. I do not deliberate and then concoct... Before painting, when I talk to the person, they unconsciously assume their most characteristic pose, which in a way involves all their character and social standing - what the world has done to them and their retaliation."
Alice Neel
"Like Chekhov, I am a collector of souls... if I hadn't been an artist, I could have been a psychiatrist."
Alice Neel
"You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is... unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far."
Alice Neel
"I thought you had to give up a lot for art, and you did. It required complete concentration. It also required that whatever money you had had to be put into art materials."
Alice Neel
"I like it not only to look like the person but to have their inner character as well. And then I like it to express the zeitgeist. See, I don't like something from the '60s to look like something in the '70s."
Alice Neel

"The minute I sat in front of a canvas I was happy. Because it was a world, and I could do what I liked in it. "

Alice Neel Signature

Synopsis

Alice Neel, an unshakable original, witnessed a parade of avant-garde movements from Abstract Expressionism to Conceptual Art, and refused to follow any of them. Instead, she developed a unique, expressive style of portrait painting that captured the psychology of individuals living in New York, from friends and neighbors in Spanish Harlem to celebrities. Part of what makes Neel one of the greatest American portraitists of the 20th century is her refusal of traditional categories (gender, age race, social status, etc.). She does not presume what she does not know. She observes each subject with a fresh eye. Neel's insights into the human condition never wavered, remaining direct, unflinching, and always empathetic.

Key Ideas

Types are less interesting to Neel than individuals. Andy Warhol and her neighbor's children are subjected to the same level of scrutiny, curiosity, and psychic assessment. "If I hadn't been an artist, I could have been a psychiatrist" she once said.
At a time when it was deeply unfashionable, Neel persisted in being a figure painter and a portraitist. While fully engrossed in the New York art scene and connected with its major innovators, she remained steadfast in her choice of style and subject matter, unswayed by an art world that favored abstraction. She persisting in making work that pleased her, regardless of what anyone thought. In this respect, she is very much like another great portraitist: Vincent van Gogh.
Neel was virtually unknown and had only a handful of solo shows prior to 1970. In the last two decades of her life, she had sixty. This was not purely due to the strength of her work, but to a seismic shift in the art world, which had begun to acknowledge the achievements of minorities and women.
While prolific, Neel appears to have been relatively uninterested in self-marketing. In this respect, she is different from many other successful artists of her generation, particularly women, who had to work especially hard to get noticed by the critics. Louise Nevelson, around the same age, is an especially intriguing study in contrast.

Biography

Alice Neel Photo

Childhood

Alice Hartley Neel was born into a colorful American family. Her father, George Washington Neel, was an accountant with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and hailed from a clan of steamship owners and opera singers. Her mother, Alice Concross Hartley, was a descendant of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Young Alice was the fourth of five children, with three brothers and a sister. Her oldest brother, Hartley, died of diphtheria shortly after she was born. He was only eight years old. Several months later, Neel's family moved to the small town of Colwyn, a short distance from Philadelphia, where she attended primary school and high school.

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Alice Neel Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Alice Neel
Interactive chart with Alice Neel's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Dorothea LangeDorothea Lange
Henry SnellHenry Snell

Personal Contacts

Joseph SolmanJoseph Solman

Movements

ExpressionismExpressionism
Social RealismSocial Realism

Influences on Artist
Alice Neel
Alice Neel
Years Worked: 1926 - 1984
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Lucian FreudLucian Freud
Francis BaconFrancis Bacon
Eric FischlEric Fischl

Personal Contacts

Robert StorrRobert Storr
Frank O'HaraFrank O'Hara

Movements

Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Ruth Epstein
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