Alice Neel – A conversation between Helen Simpson and Jeremy Lewison
A conversation between Helen Simpson and Jeremy Lewison on the occasion of an exhibition dedicated to the work of Alice Neel (1900-1984) at Xavier Hufkens, Brussels (27 February—11 April 2015).
Born in Philadelphia in 1900, Alice Neel trained at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and carved out a career as an artist in New York, often in difficult circumstances. Neel’s dedication to the ‘unfashionable’ art of portrait painting and social realism – and this during the decades of abstract expressionism, pop art and minimalism – ensured that her work remained permanently out of kilter with avant-garde artistic developments. To quote Jeremy Lewison, advisor to the Alice Neel Estate, ‘she was isolated in a sea of changing styles’. While this was reflected in a lack of commercial and critical success during her most productive years, a retrospective organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1974 confirmed a groundswell of belated recognition. After her death in 1984, critical interest in Neel’s work further intensified and led to a series of landmark exhibitions in Europe. Alice Neel is today recognised as one of the greatest American figurative painters of the twentieth century.