Alice Neel
© Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation. Used by permission.

Reference URL

Alice Neel 1984 (printed 1992)
  • Artist Rooms
Alice Neel was a pioneering figurative painter whose work showed the influence of European expressionism and Neue Sachlichkeit. This intimate and poignant portrait of her was taken in New York when Neel was eighty four, just a week or so before her death from cancer in October 1984. Photographed with her eyes shut and mouth open, her portrait is a study in old age and the ephemeral and transient nature of human life, an apparently prescient reminder of her imminent death. The lighting draws attention to the nuances of Neel’s freckled skin and halo of white hair. Her open mouth – the only really dark area of her face – has been viewed both as an indication of resistance to impending death and as an evocation of a final breath.

Glossary Open


A style that made an impact in the arts in the 1920s, particularly in Germany. Expressionists deliberately abandoned realistic representation techniques in favour of exaggerations and distortions of line and colour that were intended to carry far greater emotional impact.

Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity or Sobriety)

A German art movement of the 1920s and early 1930s. It was partly a response to the experience of the First World War, with images containing elements of satire and social commentary. Stylistically it was sober and restrained, moving away from Expressionism to depictions based on close observation. Major figures associated with this style are George Grosz and Otto Dix.

Expressionism, Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity or Sobriety)


  • Acc. No. AR01143
  • Medium Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
  • Size 50.80 x 40.60 cm
  • Credit ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Presented by the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation 2010