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Alice Neel - American Artist

Updated on August 18, 2016

Alice Neel

Born in 1900, Alice Neel was an American portrait artist. Neel's difficult and unconventional life mimicked the approach she took towards her paintings. Although her early work received limited attention, Neel would enjoy great success and the recognition she so richly deserved during the last two decades of her life. Here is Alice Neel's bio and some examples of her unusual artwork. I hope you enjoy them!

Creative Commons photo courtesy Wikimedia

"Young Woman" - 1940

Early Life

Born on January 28, 1900, Alice Neel grew up in a small community on the outskirts of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1921, Neel enrolled in the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, and completed her degree in 1925. Just months after her graduation, Alice married Cuban painter Carlos Enríquez and the couple moved to Havana, Cuba, where they had their first child, a daughter named Santillana.

The young family's bliss would be short lived. In 1926, shortly after the three moved to New York City, Santillana would die of diphtheria. Following Santillana's death, Neel became pregnant with her second child, and daughter Isabetta was born in 1928.

Alice Neel Art Info

Alice Neel Quote

"That's what I really am, yes. A sympathetic, or sometimes not so sympathetic translator."- Alice Neel

"Dead Father" - 1946


In early 1930, Neel's husband and daughter returned to Havana. Stinging from the loss of her family, Alice Neel suffered a severe breakdown. After a short stay in the hospital, Neel tried to kill herself. She was placed in the suicide wing of a Philadelphia hospital. A year later, Neel was released from the sanitorium in 1931 and returned to her parents' home.

In the mid-30s Neel would return to New York City, and in 1939 Neel gave birth to her first son, Richard, the child of José Santiago, a Puerto Rican singer whom Neel had known since 1935. Shortly after Richard's birth, Neel moved to Spanish Harlem, but in 1940, Alice and José would go their seperate ways. On September 3, 1941, Neel would give birth to her last child, Hartley, whose father was Communist Sam Brody. In the years from 1940 and 1950, Neel painted portraits and made illustrations for a variety of Communist newspapers.

"Two Girls, Spanish Harlem" - 1959

1960s and Later

After a relatively uneventful 1950s, Neel saw her workload and accolades ramp up in the 60s. By 1970, Alice was a full-blown celebrity appearing twice on "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson. In 1971 Neel was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from her alma mater Moore College of Art (formerly the Philadelphia School of Design for Women).

The celebration of Neel's work would continue in the mid and late 1970s. In 1976, she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and in 1979, Alice received a National Women's Caucus for Art award, presented by President, Jimmy Carter.

Neel's last major solo exibition of her work before her death was held in Moscow in 1981. When Alice Neel died on October 13, 1984, at the age of 84, her work was without a doubt at it's peak in both popularity and acceptance.

"Mother and Children" - 1967

Neel Poll

Do You Like Alice's Artwork?

See results

Alice Neel Documentary Trailer

Photo Credits: Creative Commons and public domain images.

Have Thoughts on Alice Neel? - Feel free to add them here.

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    • profile image

      portraitartist105 5 years ago

      Nice painting

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      portraitartist105 5 years ago

      Nice painting

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      bobby150 5 years ago

      Really beautiful art. I saw her work many years ago and totally forgotten to go back a revisit it.

    • Valdacious profile image

      Valdacious 6 years ago

      Thank you for introducing me to Alice Neel. :)

    • jvsper63 profile image

      jvsper63 6 years ago

      Great tribute to Alice Neel, beautiful Art:)

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I greatly admire Alice Neel's work. I've enjoyed reading this lens.

    • MelissaInTheSky profile image

      MelissaInTheSky 7 years ago

      Alice Neel has long been one of my heroes. What a brilliant, brave, wonderful woman. Thanks for making this lens!

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 7 years ago from Nashville, TN

      great lens...I love reading about other artists, their work, and how they made it.

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 7 years ago

      Great lens on a great artist that was way ahead of her times...

    • profile image

      GrowWear 7 years ago

      Loved getting to know Alice Neel here today. Her artwork is very appealing.

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      animal_lover79 9 years ago

      Sorry for the typo...Alice Neel!

    • profile image

      animal_lover79 9 years ago

      I had never heard of Alice Neek before. Thanks for sharing her story!

    • daoine lm profile image

      daoine lm 9 years ago

      Welcome to the Phenomenal Women Group :)