Born in 1900, Alice Neel is best known for her portraits of people in her social circle, during a time when there was a diminishing interest in figurative painting (Abstract expressionism, followed by Pop Art in the 60s).
In all her portraits, she depicted the gamut of human vulnerabilities, emotions and conditions. In this famous portrait of Andy Warhol, we see a portrayal of the artist that is strikingly different than most images that we are familiar with.
Between 1964 and 1978 Neel created a series of pregnant nude portraits, a subject that was historically avoided in Western art.
When asked about the subject, Neel responded: “People out of false modesty, or being sissies, never showed it, but it’s a basic fact of life… . Something the primitives did, but modern painters have shied away from because women were always done as sex objects. A pregnant woman has a claim staked out; she is not for sale.”
As she reorients the eroticism of the female nude and establishes the female body as a site of multiple, even conflicting accounts of sexual identity, Neel ventured into artistic territory that few other artists dared to explore.
Neel very boldly presents a sharp contrast to the prevailing idealistic idea of how the female body should be portrayed in art. This is particularly evident in her self portrait, created when she was 75 and finished in 1980, just four years before her death. This notion of idealized feminine beauty is thrown out the window, offers the viewer a glimpse into this iconic artist’s bawdy and bold true self.