National Museum of Women in the Arts
Alice Neel
January 28 1900 - October 13 1984
Photograph of Alice Neel, by Samuel Brody, unknown date, courtesy of Alice Neel Estate, New York, New York, USA
Place of Birth:
Merion Square
Phonetic Spelling:
AL-iss NEE-ehl
Minority status:
White non-Hispanic
Work Type/Media:
Drawings and prints, Painting
Artistic Role(s):
Painter, Portraitist, Watercolorist
Artist's Biography:
Raised in rural Pennsylvania, Alice Neel turned her back on middle-class society by becoming a professional artist, an ardent political activist, and a resident of a poor, urban neighborhood. She graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) in 1925 and fell in love with the Cuban painter Carlos Enriquez. They married and moved to Havana, where their daughter Santillana was born. In 1927, the family settled in New York and Neel’s life began to fall apart. First, Santillana died of diphtheria; then Enriquez suddenly moved to Paris, taking their second daughter with him. In 1930 Neel suffered a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide, and was hospitalized for six months. Soon after her release, Neel began living with a drug-addicted man who slashed sixty of her paintings. Two subsequent relationships—with Puerto Rican guitarist José Santiago and the Russian-born filmmaker Samuel Brody, by each of whom Neel had a son—were also volatile.

Neel’s unconventional life parallels the approach she took toward portraiture. Her images—whether of Nobel laureates, art world celebrities, relatives, or neighbors—are unfailingly, often disconcertingly, honest.

Because Neel never adjusted her painting style to fit prevailing art world fashions, her early work received limited attention. During the last decades of her life, however, Neel achieved great success. Her many honors included the Women’s Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Award, which President Jimmy Carter presented to her in 1979.

Other Occupation(s):
Lecturer, Teacher
Place(s) of Residence:
Place(s) of Activity:
Where Trained/Schools:
Philadelphia School of Design for Women, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1921-1925)
Related Visual Artists:
wife of Carlos Enriquez partner of Samuel Brody colleague of Mary Beth Edelson influenced Amanda Friedman
Fellowships, grants and awards:
Lifetime Achievement Award, Women's Caucus for Art, New York, NY, USA (1979) Elected Member, American Academy and Institution of Arts and Letters, New York, NY, USA (1976) Honorary Doctorate, Moore College of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1971)
Earliest exhibition:
International Exhibition, Boyer Gallery, Philadelphia, PA, USA (1933)
NMWA exhibition(s):
Women Artists of the New Deal Era: A Selection of Prints and Drawings
WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution
Alice Neel's Women
Four Centuries of Women's Art: The National Museum of Women in the Arts
Partners in Printmaking: Works from SOLO Impression
Artist retrospective(s):
Alice Neel: A Retrospective Showing, University of Bridgeport, Bridgeport, CT, USA (1979) Alice Neel: The Woman and her Work, Georgia Museum of Art, Athens, GA, USA (1975) Alice Neel, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY, USA (1974)
Related places
New York (died at)
T.B. Harlem