New York, Spanish Harlem

Alice Neel

“I love you Harlem / Your life your pregnant / Women, your relief lines / Outside the bank, full / Of women who no dress / In Saks 5th ave would / Fit, teeth missing, weary / Out of shape, little black / Arms around their necks / Clinging to their skirts / All the wear and worry of struggle on their faces / What a treasure of goodness / And life shambles / Thru the streets / Abandoned, despised, / Charged the most, given / The worst / I love you for electing / Marcantonio, and him / For being what he is / And for the rich deep vein / Of human feeling buried / under your fire engines / Your poverty and your loves”
Alice Neel, unpublished notes, Neel Archives

Alice Neel arrived in New York for the first time in 1927, but the city did not become her home until late 1931. She lived in the Bronx before moving to Greenwich Village, the epicenter of the city’s progressive politics. She later moved to Spanish Harlem in 1938, where she lived until 1962. There she began to portray the diversity and struggles of its people and bear constant witness to the life around her. In her work, Alice Neel captured the soul of her neighbors, some of them disadvantaged immigrants who had seldom been artistic subjects before then. Neel showed a particular interest in the children of the Spanish Harlem, whose complex inner lives she tried to portray.