This documentary is a film biography of American artist, Alice Neel (1900-1984), directed by her grandson, Andrew Neel. The film utilizes interviews with art historians; comments and interviews by Alice Neel herself; comments by her two sons and other family members; interviews with some of those that the artist painted; still photographs and other archival materials; and most spectacularly, displays of many Neel paintings. There are annotations of several important Neel paintings in this database. This film or sections of it would make a good accompaniment to discussions of those works.

Neel was a complex person and the film pays attention to this complexity. She lived what was considered to be a "bohemian" life, not following social conventions of the times and determined to pursue her art. There was early tragedy: marriage to a Cuban artist eventually disintegrated but produced two girl children, one of whom died as a baby and another who was kept in Cuba by the father and his family. These events were catastrophic for Neel and resulted in psychiatric hospitalization. For many years her life was one of poverty. In the 1930s she was funded to paint by the Works Progress Administration and later survived on welfare in Spanish Harlem while raising two sons born "out of wedlock". There she painted neighbors, and others who lived in that community. During the McCarthy era in the 1950s she was under investigation by the FBI for her occasional association with the Communist Party. She struggled to have her work recognized: although her paintings date back to the 1920s, it was not until 1974 that a retrospective exhibit of her art was presented by an important museum, the Whitney Museum of American Art. By that time she was painting portraits of well known individuals like Andy Warhol.


This is a fascinating and informative film, not slick and high-tech, but intimate and revealing. There is footage of Neel in her apartment, with canvases cluttering the rooms. There are telling remarks by the artist about what painting means to her. An odd sequence of the director arguing with his father (Hartley Neel) on camera lends authenticity. Comments by the director's uncle (Alice Neel's other son Richard) are somewhat startling as he discusses how difficult his childhood was, how he disapproves of his mother's lifestyle and leftist leanings. There are many wonderful paintings on display and they are skillfully woven into the documentary.


The Neel estate has a comprehensive website: with detailed biographical notes and a gallery of many paintings. Information about the film is at: Can be purchased as a DVD or streamed.

Primary Source

SeeThink Productions