Alice Neel Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1695 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Art  (general)

¶ … artist and artwork of Alice Neel. Specifically it will discuss several of Neel's artworks, along with her style of painting. Alice Neel could be one of the most prolific female artists in American history. She painted almost continuously from the 1920s to the 1980s when she died, and her works fill some of the most well-known and notable museums in the country. She conquered mental illness to continue painting, and is known for her modern, impressionistic art approaches to portraits most of all. Her portraits embody the themes of motherhood, loss, and apprehension, and these themes have continued throughout her career, as well.

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Alice Neel was born in Pennsylvania in 1900. She graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (now Moore College of Art) in 1925, and began a long career of painting. Neel was unusual for her time, as there were not that many formally educated women painters. In addition, she and her Cuban husband both attempted to make a living as artists at a time when that was not nearly as common as it is today. In studying her work, a clear progression becomes apparent. In the 1920s, her work was very dark and shadowed, imitating perhaps the great masters of early European art, who, like Rembrandt, painted very dark, brooding canvases, without much color or excitement. Her 1930s works were almost all done after she suffered a nervous breakdown, and they begin to show her emerging talent. Many are still dark, but there is a cartoonish quality to many that was not there before, and her subjects often seem macabre or wicked in some way. Few of her subjects smile, and they all seem haunted or "different" in some way. During her time in New York, she often paints people she finds on the streets, and they seem sad, poor, and even lonely in her portraits.

TOPIC: Term Paper on Alice Neel Assignment

The 1940s and 50s continue this progression into more cartoonish art, with people who seem surreal and real at the same time. She also begins sketching with charcoal and pencils, something very different from the bright colors that are beginning to creep into some of her works. She paints other street scenes, landscapes, and even a still life or two, but her main body of work still consists of portraits of mostly everyday people. Another critic notes, "While many of her portraits were of people who were not quite ordinary, such as her leftist male literary friends and lovers in Greenwich Village, she did indeed paint the people in her community when she lived in Spanish Harlem. These are the most moving works of her career" (Platt). She does paint some of her celebrity friends, such as Andy Warhol, however, and these are compelling, too.

Neel's 1960s and 70s works become a little more relaxed and colorful. She begins to rid herself of dark backgrounds and opens up her palate to lighter colors, and even some pastels. She also uses bright bold reds, yellows, and blues when appropriate. She still paints essentially portraits, and most of her subjects seem sad, or at lest preoccupied with something larger than themselves. It is notable that almost every one of her subjects is sitting, either formally or at ease, and she seems to catch them off guard somehow as they pose for her. She really seems to capture the essence of the people she paints, simply with a pose, a facial expression, or even in the way they hold their hands, legs, and body in the painting. She seems to have the ability to bring people out, and discover who they are deep inside, which is one reason her paintings are so very compelling.

Neel's life was troubled and difficult from the time she began her art career. In 1927, her daughter died of diphtheria, and in 1930, her husband returned to Cuba without her. She says of the time, "That was in 1930 and then I had a horrible nervous breakdown. I was in and out of the hospital for a whole year. It was frightful. I was deserted and my child Isabetta was in Havana. My husband took her down with him and was going to come back in a month" (Nemser 103). Her husband only returned after she suffered her breakdown, and they never managed to reconcile. She even attempted suicide during this dark period in her life. This makes Neel an even more interesting artistic figure, because after her breakdown, she seems to incorporate more anguish and even a little madness into her works. She seems to be able to draw her subjects out, and show the inner workings of their minds on the canvas, which is another aspect of her art that draws people to it, and that she is known for. Another critic quotes her, "I get so identified when I paint them, when they go home I feel frightful'," she once admitted. 'I have no self -- I've gone into this other person'" (Cork 41). Thus, she draws out her subjects because she becomes her subjects, something not many artists can truly accomplish.

Neel overcame her depression and mental illness, and when she was finally released from the hospital, she began painting in great quantity again, and eventually, her work became more well-known. One critic notes of her style, "Economy of means is Neel's trademark. Working in an expressionist manner, the artist reveals with strong touches of heavily stroked-on paint and willful distortions of forceful line the interior functionings of the men and women before her" (Nemser 97).

The painting below is called "Still Life, Havana," and Neel painted it in 1926. It is an oil on canvas, and is 26 x 20 inches. It is one of the relatively few non-portraits in her most known collection, and it illustrated her early artistic period, when she was married, had her first child, and lived in Havana. Later works are much less formal, and much more impressionistic. The details in this work makes it extremely impressive, and shows a different element of Neel's work, it also shows how she matured as a painter as she grew older and gained more experience. This painting seems almost like a copy of an old master's work, and it seems much more self-conscious than her late works. It is also extremely feminine, something that most critics do not consider when viewing her paintings and drawings.

The next work is entitled "Suzanne Moss," and Neel painted it in 1962. It is an oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 44 1/8 inches. This painting is far more realistic than many of her portraits, and as such, it is very pleasing to the eye. The woman seems at ease and comfortable, something that cannot be said for many of Neel's works. However, there is a pensive mood to the painting, and as with most of Neel's work, she seems to have captured the woman's inner feelings and brought them out onto the canvas for the world to see. There is a sadness about this woman, as well, and this is one of Neel's trademarks - she seems to paint with an anxiety or anxiousness, and passes that on to her subjects, as well. Her mental illness clearly changed her, and it changed the way she saw and painted the world around her. Perhaps she would not have become as well-known had she not suffered from this illness, because her paintings became much more moving and powerful, somehow, after her illness, and they remained this way throughout her long career.

This final portrait is titled "Nancy and the Twins," and Neel painted it in 1971. It is an oil on canvas 54 x 40 inches. This example of her work indicates another theme that is constant throughout all her career, and that… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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How to Cite "Alice Neel" Term Paper in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Alice Neel.  (2008, June 13).  Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Alice Neel."  13 June 2008.  Web.  27 October 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Alice Neel."  June 13, 2008.  Accessed October 27, 2021.