Artists, Painters

Pregnant Maria by Alice Neel

Alice Neel was an American painter best known for her expressionists portraits. In her work, she made a dynamic use of colour and line to captured the emotional life of the models, she wanted to put the psychological side of her models in the paintings.

Whether I’m painting or not, I have this overwhelming interest in humanity.”

Although she was a witness of the avant-garde movements, she didn’t follow them. In instead, she developed her own style of portraiture, very expressive that tried to capture the psychology of her models. Because of her interest in portraying psychic depth many critics suggested that her painting was influenced by Van Gogh, Munch or Kathe Kollwitz.

alice neel
Alice Neel portrait in her studio

photographed by Lynn Gilbert in 1976

She is considered as one of the best American portraitists of 20th century. She observes each person/subject with a fresh eye, without presuming information that she didn’t know. Even when the majority of artists preferred the abstract painting, she insisted to be a figure painter and a portraitist.

Neel was not interested in types, she wanted to portrait individuals with all these little things that make them unique. Her insistence on representing a broad cross-section of the American public, from a range of racial, cultural and socio-economic backgrounds was firmly rooted in her political convictions.

Pregnant Maria

When she was living in New York, she made several portraits of pregnant women. In this painting she addresses the attention towards the unresolved tensions in her subject by breaking the expectations of the viewers. The subject is framed within a set of references that are not familiar in this context.

pregnant mary
Pregnant Maria, 1964 (Photo credit: Alice Neel website)

She portraited a pregnant woman naked and in an erotic pose. But more than the absence of clothes and the pose is the attitude of the woman, proud and confident, looking to the viewers almost in a defying way what give to the portrait the eroticism.  All these characteristics make this painting unique.

According to Helena Reckitt and Peggy Phelan, here the portrayal of pregnancy is formally and stylistically conflated with the confrontation re-working of an erotic pose frequently found in mass media photography and which can be traced back through the history of Western painting to models such as the female nudes of Titian and Goya.

Venus and organis and little dog by Titian (1550) / La maja desnuda by Goya


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