Alice Neel was an expressive figure and portrait painter whose themes were broken family bonds and the cruel conditions of urban society. Many of her subjects were nudes, and her realistic, figurative subjects were against the grain of the prevalent Abstract Expressionism. However, in the 1960s, she had the satisfaction of seeing the public's interest catch up with her style and subjects.
As a female painter, she became a cult figure within the feminist community, but she did not get much recognition until later in her life. She was 62 before the first major article about her appeared in ARTNews, and it was titled "Introducing the Portraits of Alice Neel." By then she had been painting in obscurity for 30 years and had raised two sons by herself.
Born in Merion, Pennsylvania, Neel moved to New York City in 1927 from Colwyn, Pennsylvania where she was raised. She studied at the Philadelphia College of Art and Design, later Moore College of Art, from 1921 to 1925 and then moved to New York City in 1927. She lived in Spanish Harlem and was known for working at a frantic pace at her painting and combining her subject matter with her interest in radical politics and culture.
Her style was independent of most contemporaneous styles, and
she remained committed to a style that was basically representational
but allowed her to place symbolic marks on bodies that showed
psychological and physical scars. Because of this method, her
portraits were relentlessly real. Included among her subjects
were major figures of the day such as Virgil Thompson, Andy
Warhol, and Linus Pauling.