Alice Neel

Exhibition Alice Neel - Painter of Modern Life. Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Jenni Nurminen

Painter of Modern Life

Alice Neel (1900–1984) was one of the most significant American painters of the 20th century. Her psychologically charged portraits tell intimate and unconventional stories, as much about people living on the margins of society and in subcultures as about the New York cultural elite and her own family. Alice Neel led an exceptionally interesting life as a single parent and a feminist in a time when the world of art was largely male-dominated.

She is best known for her distinctive style of portraiture, where her models are painted without glorification, in a very straightforward manner. During her long career, Neel worked particularly in

New York. The exhibition, arranged and led by Ateneum Art Museum, is only the second major presentation of Neel’s work in Europe.

Alice Neel’s portraits have a unique, startling power. Sometimes it seems as if her model is gazing directly at the viewer and coming unnervingly close. Sometimes the expression is introverted, rejecting the viewer. Neel’s psychologically acute eye and technical virtuosity achieve something essential in the models and their environment. Neel’s nudes are truly exceptional: she observes her model neutrally, without manipulation or erotic undertones.

Alice Neel painted many members of New York’s cultural elite and other celebrities, including pop artist Andy Warhol in 1970 and land artist Robert Smithson in 1962. She frequently painted her family, close friends or random people she had met. The portraits open a window into the artist’s remarkably rich and eventful life.

The cityscapes selected for the exhibition reveal Neel’s sharp perception and unusual interpretation of her environment. Born in Pennsylvania, Alice Neel’s first marriage took her to Cuba in 1926. She later settled down in New York, where she came to know the Greenwich Village of artists and writers, the Latin American and Puerto Rican Spanish Harlem and the Upper West Side like the back of her hand.

Comprising approximately 70 paintings, the exhibition has been curated by Jeremy Lewison, a leading expert in Alice Neel’s work. After Helsinki, the exhibition produced by Ateneum will tour the Gemeentemuseum den Haag in the Hague, the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles and the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg.

A richly illustrated catalogue, will accompany the exhibition with articles by a range of international writers, exploring Alice Neel’s career from a variety of angles. Edited by Jeremy Lewison and Anu Utriainen, this is the first book on Neel in Finnish. The book is also available in English.
Buy the catalogue in our webshop.

Several museums and private collectors have loaned works to the exhibition, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the Tate in London; and Moderna Museet in Stockholm.

Exhibition’s themes

Alice Neel Chronology

Guided tours

in the exhibition Alice Neel in English on even-numbered weeks on Saturdays at 12 (18.6., 2.7., 16.7., 30.7., 13.8., 27.8., 10.9. and 24.9.)

Events related to the exhibition

Wed. 31 Aug. at 6 pm, and Wed. 21 Sept. at 6 pm: Film screening Alice Neel, Ateneum Hall
Directed by Andrew Neel, 2007. Duration 82 min, Arthouse Films. This award-winning film contains plenty of archival material, and interviews with Neel’s friends and family, models, and influential figures in the world of art. The director, Andrew Neel, is Alice Neel’s grandson. In English, no subtitles.

Sat. 24 Sept. from 10 am to 4 pm: Alice Neel and Portraits in Art conference
This conference focuses specifically on paintings by Alice Neel, a masterful portrayer of people, while also discussing portraits and self-portraits in art in general. Conference speakers include the Neel expert Jeremy Lewison, and Doctor of Philosophy Marja Lahelma.

Press releases

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