Alice Neel, Portrait Artist

Alice Neel (from self portrait), Colwyn, Delaware County

Alice Neel was an American painter and considered "one of the greatest portrait artists of the 20th century”.

She was born in Merion Square, Philadelphia in 1900 and moved to Colwyn, Delaware County in mid-1900. After graduating from Darby High School, Neel took a civil service exam and got a high-paying clerical position. While working, she enrolled in the Fine Arts program of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Neel's life was troubled and difficult. Her world was composed of artists. intellectuals and political leaders in the Communist party. Her paintings were predominately of friends, family and lovers she had met along the way. She lived in a mansion in Cuba and then became an impoverished single mother during the 1930s and 1940s.

Toward the end of the 1960s, the feminist movement brought intensity in the interest in Neel's work, and in 1970, Alice was commissioned to do a portrait of the feminist activist Kate Millet for Time magazine.

At the age of 79, Neel received the National Woman Caucus for Art award for outstanding achievement from President Jimmy Carter. She was given a retrospective of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974, and in 2001 a retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Since then she has hailed with retrospect at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, the Whitechapel Gallery in London and the Moderna Museet Malmo in Sweden, and interest in her art and life continues to grow thirty years after her death at age 84.