T.B., Harlem

Neel, Alice

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Painting

Annotated by:
Winkler, Mary
  • Date of entry: Mar-03-1997
  • Last revised: Mar-01-2017


A young man lies propped up on pillows, his hand pointing toward a bandaged area on his side. The composition is a powerful diagonal sweep, the body in the bed forming a triangle. At its apex, the head of the man with its mass of dark hair is haloed in the white of the pillow. His dark, glistening eyes arrest the viewer, demanding attention and implicitly evoking sympathy. Neel’s expressionism is displayed in the elongated curvature of the neck, the ears splayed out from the head to rest on the pillow, and in the eloquent gesture toward the bandage.


Alice Neel, an expressionist portraitist of unusual commitment, worked on WPA projects (Works Progress Administration, 1935-1943) in the 30’s and early 40’s. During this time, she lived and worked in Spanish Harlem and painted numerous portraits of the people she met and saw on the streets. She spoke of this tuberculosis patient as "the face of Puerto Rico."She compared herself to Balzac as an observer and interpreter of the human comedy, and openly embraced human behavior--even when it was shocking or a disturbing revelation of suffering. She wrote of herself as a "collector of souls," and her unflinching but generous portraits are witnesses to that fact.


Dated 1940. The Neel estate has a comprehensive website: http://www.aliceneel.com/home/ with detailed biographical notes and a gallery of many paintings.
Read another annotation by Russell Teagarden

Primary Source

Alice Neel. Ed. Ann Temkin. (Harry N. Abrams, distr. Time Warner) 2000. Color.