Exploring New York with Painter Alice Neel

The sights you’ll see! The people you’ll meet!  There’s nothing like seeing 20th-century New York through the eyes of one of most astute observers of the human condition. It’s why people have been flocking to The Met to see Alice Neel: People Come First, on view through August 1.

Considered one of America’s greatest figurative painters, Alice herself considered her relentless artistic pursuit more in line with history painting.  And what a history you’ll experience, walking through room after room of insightful portraits and cityscapes.

1958 Two Girls, Spanish Harlem with Alice’s neighbors Antonia and Carmen Encarnación. Courtesy: Boston Museum of Fine Arts
1972 portrait depicting Irene Peslikis, a leading Seventies feminist activist. Private collecdtion.

Alice’s colorful, insightful works introduce you first-hand to bohemian life post-WWI, the Great Depression, the socialist fight for workers’ and artists’ rights, the push for civil rights, the art underground, and the rise of feminism.

Through it all, Alice kept raising her family and painting in her home studio, sparing nothing in her portrayals of kids experiencing the world, families just trying to make ends meet in Harlem, marriages, births, and annual trips to the country.

Her earliest artistic influence was her early 20th-century academy training, in which the bravura brushwork of Robert Henri was admired – merging virtuoso painting with unfiltered views of everyday people and sights. Alice drew and painted like a virtuoso herself, sure of her ability of laying down an expressive line. 

Neel’s 1955 A Spanish Boy with Henri’s 1907 Dutch Girl in White.

Throughout her life, her frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum bolstered her work with the continued influence Cassatt, Soutine, and other grand masters of the brush and the masters of social commentary, like Jacob Lawrence or Daumier.

The result is a decade-by-decade window into the life, times, struggles, and perseverance of a working mother-artist who took the same master, unflinching approach to documenting her pregnant daughter-in-law, civil rights leaders, Andy Warhol, and her own aging body.

Take a look at our favorites in our Flickr album.

Detail of 1978-79 portrait of her son when he worked for Pan Am, Richard in the Era of the Corporation.

Alice and the curators keep the surprises coming through the exhibition, but why not hear from her yourself?  Here is Alice’s own description of her life, times, and what inspired her:

Experience Alice Neel’s New York in the Met’s multimedia primer here, and see all of the works assembled for her incredible exhibition.

1984 photo of Neel as a guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Courtesy: Neel estate

1 thought on “Exploring New York with Painter Alice Neel

  1. Awesome review Susan… Wish I could drop over to see it! Thanks for your excellent reports. Cheers!

    Gary

    Gary Knowles 487 Presidential Lane Madison, WI. 53711 608-231-3884

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