Alice Neels art is unmistakable, from her startling images of 20th-century art-world figures to her signature pregnant nudes. One of the first artists in the Works Progress Administration program of the Great Depression, Neel started out as a Social Realist and then defiantly painted figurative work during the height of Abstract Expressionism. She focused on the least fashionable of realist genres, portraiture, which had long since been declared dead, bringing to it an electrifying verve.
Now the subject of a major retrospective at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Neel emerged from near obscurity in the 1960s and 70ss, buoyed by feminism and a return to the figure. By the time she died at 84, in 1984, she had become a bona fide art star, painting Andy Warhol, being feted at Gracie Mansion and twice appearing with Johnny Carson.

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