In 1953 Alice Neel created a series of ink and gouache drawings depicting the last weeks of her mother's life, which were spent in a New York city hospital. One of these is at the Robert Miller website linked to this annotation. In the drawing, a black nurse comforts a prone elderly lady. The pale hues of the painting--blue, black, white--evoke a somber mood and imply sickness. This sense of despair is augmented by a harsh cityscape background beyond a dark river, which the viewer sees through a window.

Compassion counters these desolate surroundings, however, for a bond is apparent between the nurse and elderly patient. The nurse's hands rest on the patient in a partial cradling gesture, and the trajectory of the lines made by the nurse's arms and hands and the elderly patient's flowing hair establishes a visual and emotional link. The connection between the two figures is supplemented by the thin smiles on both women's faces.


Alice Neel (1900-1984) studied art and graduated from the Philadelphia School of Design for Women in 1925. Neel experienced personal hardships including the death of her first daughter, Santillana, and a mental breakdown that resulted in a stint in a sanatorium. In 1933, she enrolled in the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), and from 1935-43 she worked for the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project, Easel Division.

Recognition was not forthcoming, however, and Neel experienced trials as an artist for many years. In time, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from her alma mater, Moore College of Art (formerly the Philadelphia School of Design for Women), and had retrospectives at the Whitney Museum in New York City.


Painted 1954. The Neel estate has a comprehensive website: with detailed biographical notes and a gallery of many paintings.

Primary Source

Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, S.C.