Alice Neel, a celebrated portrait painter known for her depictions of friends, family, lovers, poets, artists, and strangers painted her first self-portrait in 1980 – four years before her death at 84. The painting is characterized by her signature style of psychological insight and emotional intensity. In the self-portrait, Neel can be seen sitting naked on a striped chair in her studio holding a paintbrush.
The painting is widely regarded as a bold statement against an ageist and sexist society. By portraying herself without any clothes on while holding a paintbrush confidently, Neel defied the societal norms that dictated how women should present themselves. Instead of adhering to these gender-based stereotypes and taboos associated with nudity for women artists specifically and women generally, she chose to depict herself as boldly as possible.
Neel’s expressionistic use of line and color shines through in this self-portrait. The intensity of the colors not only complement each other but also distinctively capture Neel’s emotions as an artist working within an unpredictable medium. It is evident that she utilized this unforgiving medium to communicate the rawness of emotion that brought so much vitality to her portraits throughout her career.