The Met's new Alice Neel retrospective includes a loving depiction of her East Harlem neighbors

Updated: Apr 21


Alice Neel, Dominican Boys on 108th Street, 1955
Alice Neel, Dominican Boys on 108th Street, 1955 © The Estate of Alice Neel

In the Met's new retrospective of the American portraitist Alice Neel, New Yorkers of all stripes figure prominently—from expectant mothers to Andy Warhol.


But Neel's paintings of her friends and neighbors in East Harlem, where she spent more than a quarter of her life, resonate the most in "Alice Neel: People Come First."


Alice Neel, Mercedes Arroyo, 1952
Alice Neel, Mercedes Arroyo, 1952 © The Estate of Alice Neel

Neel called East Harlem home from 1938 to 1962, starting with a stint at 8 E 107th Street before eventually moving to 21 E 108th Street.


Paintings from that era include portraits of community activist Mercedes Arroyo, a pair of Dominican boys standing on the street, as well as a mother and her three young children, to name just a few.


Alice Neel, The Spanish Family, 1943
Alice Neel, The Spanish Family, 1943 © The Estate of Alice Neel

Streetscapes like "Spanish Harlem" (1938), a view of the neighborhood from Neel's apartment window, and "Fish Market" (1947), a depiction of the indoor market La Marqueta that still stands today, also show the painter's abiding interest in her neighborhood.


It's the people, however, that left their deepest mark.


"I have never felt strange in East Harlem because of the fine and hospitable humanity I find all around me," Neel is quoted as saying in the Met's video primer. "East Harlem is like a battlefield of humanism, and I am on the side of the people there."


"Alice Neel: People Come First" is on view at the Met from March 22 to August 1.


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