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.