Early Works

Alice Neel

“My life in Cuba had much more to do with my later psychology. It conditioned me a lot”
Alice Neel: Patricia Hills, Alice Neel, 1983

Born into a traditional middle-class American family, Alice Neel worked to pay for her studies at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women, where she had the opportunity to develop her budding artistic skills. During her training years, the style and philosophy of one of the most famous teachers at the school, Robert Henri (b. 1865; d. 1929), whose book The Art Spirit (1923) Neel read avidly, left a strong imprint in Neel. Working from a model, Neel, like Henri, merged careful observation with pictorial sensibility.

While attending a summer session at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at Chester Springs, the artist met Carlos Enríquez, who was a member of the Cuban artistic and intellectual avant-garde. In 1925 they married and soon headed for Cuba, where Neel had fascinating formative experiences, both artistic and political. There she found a vivid intellectual atmosphere, made her earliest portraits of disadvantaged persons, and had the chance to present her work in public for the first time, which was warmly received.