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Alice Neel Portrait

Alice Neel

Also Known as: Alice Hartley Neel

Merion Square, Pennsylvania 1900

New York, New York 1984

Photo Caption:
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, © Estate of Alice Neel, 1980

Luce Artist Quote

"Cézanne made a statement . . . He said, 'I love to paint people who have grown old naturally in the country.' My statement is, 'I love to paint people mutilated and beaten up by the rat race in New York.'" The artist, quoted in "Alice Neel and the Human Comedy," ARTnews, October 1984


Born in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, Alice Neel graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) in 1925. She was a portrait painter whose work cut across the social classes. She once described herself as a "collector of souls," and lived much of her adult life in the Spanish Harlem section of New York City. From 1935 to 1943, Neel was employed by the W.P.A. Federal Art Project, Easel Division. She was also included in a group exhibition of acclaimed women artists in Washington, D.C., in 1979, entitled Women's Caucus for Art Honors Bishop, Burke, Neel, Nevelson, O'Keeffe.

Therese Thau Heyman Posters American Style (New York and Washington, D.C.: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., in association with the National Museum of American Art, 1998)

Additional Biographies

Alice Neel was born in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) from 1921 to 1925. After living briefly in Havana, Cuba, she settled in New York City in 1927. During the 1930s she participated in the Federal Art Project. Although she painted landscapes, interiors, and still lifes, Neel was best known for her expressionistic portraits. In these "pictures of people," as she preferred to call them, Neel sought to convey the inner essence of her subjects. Her distinctive style received belated recognition in 1974 with a retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 1981 Neel became the first living American artist to have a major retrospective of her work in Moscow.

National Museum of American Art (CD-ROM) (New York and Washington D.C.: MacMillan Digital in cooperation with the National Museum of American Art, 1996)