Alice Neel: Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978

Texts by Jeremy Lewison and Claire Messud

Drawing was a fundamental, stand-alone component of Alice Neel’s practice, persistently pursued alongside painting, for which she is primarily known. As a medium, it enabled her to capture the immediacy of her visual experience—whether in front of her sitters or on the city streets—while also affording her a greater sense of experimentation and informality. Neel chose the subjects for both her paintings and drawings from her family, friends, and a broad variety of fellow New Yorkers: writers, poets, artists, students, textile salesmen, cabaret singers, and homeless bohemians. Through her penetrative, forthright, and at times humorous touch, her work subtly engaged with political and social issues, including gender, racial inequality, and labor struggles. Not initially intended for public view, her drawings reveal a more private and intimate nature than her paintings and as such reflect her deep sensitivity to these subjects. Yet they are far from sentimental and she readily stripped her sitters of their masks, foregrounding rather the incongruous, the awkward, and, at times, the comical.

Alice Neel: Drawings and Watercolors 1927-1978 presents an illuminating overview of the variety of themes and styles employed by the artist across five decades. Published to coincide with an exhibition at David Zwirner in New York, the book contains over sixty color plates organized thematically and includes works selected from throughout her career. In addition, it features essays by the independent curator and writer Jeremy Lewison and the award-winning novelist Claire Messud, as well as a selected chronological biography and illustrated list of works.

Although Neel’s influences and style changed from decade to decade, her profound commitment to her subjects and to her art remained consistent over the course of her career, and although the appearance of many of her sitters changed over the years, there is a timeless quality to the works. As Claire Messud notes in her reflections on the artist in the exhibition catalogue, “The complex emotions Neel evokes in her art are nothing less than the contradictions of life itself.”


Publisher: David Zwirner Books

Artists: Alice Neel

Contributors: Jeremy Lewison, Claire Messud

Designer: Laura Lindgren

Printer: Studio Fasoli, Verona, Italy

Publication Date: 2015

Binding: Hardcover

Dimensions: 9 x 11 in (22.9 x 27.9 cm)

Pages: 120

Reproductions: 127 color, 1 b&w

ISBN: 9781941701133

Retail: $45 US & Canada | £30 | €37

Status: Out Of Print

Alice Neel

Alice Neel was born in 1900 in Merion Square, Pennsylvania, and died in 1984 in New York. With a practice spanning the 1920s to the 1980s, Neel is widely regarded as one of the foremost American figurative painters of the twentieth century. Based in New York, Neel chose her subjects from her family, friends, and a broad variety of locals, and her eccentric selection was thus a portrayal of, and dialogue with, the city in which she lived. Although she showed sporadically early in her career, from the 1960s onwards her work was exhibited widely in the United States. In 1974, she had her first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

All Alice Neel books

Jeremy Lewison

Jeremy Lewison is an independent curator, writer, and lecturer, and since 2003 has acted as the advisor to The Estate of Alice Neel. He began his career in the art world in 1977 as Curator of Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge. In 1983, he joined Tate Gallery, London as an Assistant Keeper in the Modern Collection, rising to the position of Director of Collections in 1998. In addition to having expertise in British art of the interwar period, he became Tate’s specialist in postwar American art, and was responsible for publications and exhibitions on the works of Jackson Pollock, Sol LeWitt, Brice Marden, and Barnett Newman.

Claire Messud

Claire Messud is an award-winning American novelist. The author of six works of fiction, including The Emperor’s Children (2006), The Woman Upstairs (2013), and The Burning Girl (2017), Messud has received Guggenheim and Radcliffe fellowships and the Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.