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Alice Neel's daring portraits of people and places are among the most insightful images in twentieth-century American art. To celebrate the centennial of her birth, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has organized Alice Neel, the first full-scale examination of her inspiring and provocative life and work. Organized with the full cooperation of the artist's family, this exhibition features seventy-five paintings and watercolors, many of which have never been previously exhibited.
Born in 1900 in Merion Square (now Gladwyne), near Philadelphia, Neel led a rich and complicated life. A 1925 graduate of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art and Design), Neel spent a year in Havana, then moved with her husband to New York City, where she remained the rest of her life. In the 1930s, her subjects included the colorful Greenwich Village poets and writers, as well as friends and family. Neel's revolutionary nude portraits of figures such as her young daughter Isabetta and the bohemian icon Joe Gould are still audacious images.
Employed by the W.P.A. during the Great Depression, Neel painted scenes of the city street that reflect her trenchant concern for the dispossessed: striking workers, impoverished families, and the homeless. She was steadfast in depicting the world around her with compassion, acuity and freedom. Portraits of her neighbors in Spanish Harlem employ humor and insight to great effect—both tender and unforgiving at once. Presented in the exhibition will be Last Sickness, a 1953 portrait of the artist's mother, which is a promised gift to the Museum from Richard Neel and Hartley S. Neel, sons of Alice Neel.
Neel's astounding emergence, late in life, corresponded with the dawning of the women's movement and with the art world's reawakened interest in the human figure. Her portraits of fellow artists—including Andy Warhol, Frank O'Hara, Robert Smithson, and Faith Ringgold—document a professional world in which Neel was suddenly a seemingly improbable star.
Corporate sponsorship was provided by AT&T. Additional funding for educational programs was provided by The Comcast Foundation.