ALICE NEEL | PORTRAIT OF OLIVIA
By Women For Tomorrow's Women: A Benefit Auction For Miss Porter's School
1900 - 1984
PORTRAIT OF OLIVIA
signed, dated '80 and numbered AP 19/30
30 by 24 in. (76.2 by 61 cm.)
Executed in 1980, this work is artist's proof's number 19 from an edition of 175, plus 30 artist's proofs.
This work is in excellent condition overall. There are no apparent surface scratches or accretions present. Framed under Plexiglas.
The lot is sold in the condition it is in at the time of sale. The condition report is provided to assist you with assessing the condition of the lot and is for guidance only. Any reference to condition in the condition report for the lot does not amount to a full description of condition. The images of the lot form part of the condition report for the lot provided by Sotheby's. Certain images of the lot provided online may not accurately reflect the actual condition of the lot. In particular, the online images may represent colours and shades which are different to the lot's actual colour and shades. The condition report for the lot may make reference to particular imperfections of the lot but you should note that the lot may have other faults not expressly referred to in the condition report for the lot or shown in the online images of the lot. The condition report may not refer to all faults, restoration, alteration or adaptation because Sotheby's is not a professional conservator or restorer but rather the condition report is a statement of opinion genuinely held by Sotheby's. For that reason, Sotheby's condition report is not an alternative to taking your own professional advice regarding the condition of the lot.
Alice Neel was a pioneer among women artists, and one of the great painters of the twentieth century. She is best known for her portraiture, which captures the psychology of her friends, family, fellow artists and even strangers. She remained committed to her style and subject matter at a time when abstraction held sway. Her unique use of line and color, combined with her distorted drawings, reveal character and personality well beyond the sitter’s physical appearance. Working in the shadows for most of her career, Neel often painted local salesmen, shopkeepers as well as the homeless. She observed each sitter with intense scrutiny, curiosity and psychic assessment, and once said: “If I hadn’t been an artist, I could have been a psychiatrist.” During the last two decades of her career, she finally gained recognition and received many honors and awards.
Neel was born on January 28, 1900, in Merion Square, PA; she was raised in a strict, middle-class family who did not support her decision to become an artist. In 1918, she enrolled in art courses before entering the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1921. She became a painter with a strong social conscience and radical left-wing opinions. Many of her early portraits embraced left-wing writers, artists and trade unionists.
In 1925, she married Carlos Enriquez, a wealthy Cuban, with whom she lived in Havana while continuing to paint. The couple had two daughters, but lost one, Santillana, in 1927 to diphtheria while living temporarily in New York City. One year after their firstborn’s death, Enriquez took their other daughter and moved back to Cuba, leaving Neel behind. In response, Neel suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized for nearly a year. This trauma influenced many of her most famous paintings, which focused on motherhood, loss and anxiety. During this period she often painted women at large in society, challenging the stereotypes of femininity and women’s place in the home. Following her release, Neel forged relationships with many men, and in 1934, one of her lovers, Kenneth Doolittle, destroyed nearly 350 of her works that had not been photographed or documented.
In the 1960’s she began to paint portraits of fellow artists, art critics, and collectors: Andy Warhol (1970), Marisol (1981) and art historian Linda Nochlin with her daughter (1983). Some of her paintings have served as icons of the women’s movement.
Although she had her first solo exhibition in 1938 in NYC, Neel was virtually unknown until the 1970s when she began to exhibit widely; her first retrospective exhibition was held at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, in 1974. In 1976, she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and three years later the National Women’s Caucus for Art recognized her outstanding achievement in the visual arts. Neel died in 1984 in New York City.