ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)
ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)
ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)
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ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Property of Barbara and Theodore Alfond Sold to Benefit The Rollins Museum of Art
ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)

Light

Details
ALICE NEEL (1900-1984)
Light
signed and dated 'Neel '80' (lower left)
oil on canvas
50 x 35 7/8 in. (127 x 91.1 cm.)
Painted in 1980.
Provenance
Estate of the artist
David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
New York, David Zwirner Gallery, Alice Neel: Late Portraits & Still Lifes, May-June 2012.
Edinburgh, Talbot Rice Gallery, The University of Edinburgh, Alice Neel: The Subject and Me, July-October 2016.
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alice Neel: People Come First, March-August 2021, p. 235 (illustrated).
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

Brought to you by

Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

One of the reasons I painted was to catch light as it goes by, right hot off the griddle.Alice Neel

Currently the subject of a critically acclaimed retrospective—Alice Neel: People Come First—organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and now on view at the Guggenheim Bilbao, the artist Alice Neel was a superb practitioner of contemporary representational painting. Painted when Neel was eighty years old, Light is an ode to the simple beauty of ordinary objects and represents one of only six still life paintings included in the New York iteration of the exhibition. Showcasing both the painterly finesse with which Neel renders a variety of textures and materials, as well as her compositional rigor, this important late still life is a poetic meditation on the physical properties of light itself, and a lasting testament to the artist’s unfettered joy of painting.

Neel’s Light is an ode to the ineffable quality of light itself, and a study of how attention to luminescence and shadow, color and shape can elevate everyday objects. In the painting, a glass vase filled with multi-colored flowers, including zinnias, crowns a small purplish-brown table. The scene is awash in bright sunlight that pours in from the right edge of the painting. The deep shadows cast by the table animate the scene, and together the light and shadow create a play of geometric forms that is as much a subject of the composition as the flowers or table. As observed by Julia Bryan-Wilson, a modern art scholar and contributor to the catalogue for the retrospective, “while Neel was refusing the ostensible autonomies of pure abstraction, she was rejecting the strict protocols of realism as well, instead looking for her own hybridization of these two supposedly opposing styles” (J. Bryan-Wilson, “Alice Neel’s ‘Good Abstract Qualities,’” in K. Baum & R. Griffey, Alice Neel: People Come First, exh, cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2021, p. 107).

Neel masterfully marries both realism and abstraction in Light. In the summer months, the artist occasionally took her easel outside to paint, and in this work, the white wood paneling of the background is suggestive of the porch or sunroom of the family home in Spring Lake, New Jersey. As in her portrait work, Neel depicts the objects in her still life paintings as solitary figures, usually silhouetted against a neutral background. “I don’t think there is any great painting that doesn’t have good abstract qualities,” Neel has said (A. Neel, quoted in J. Bryan-Wilson, “Alice Neel’s ‘Good Abstract Qualities,’” in K. Baum & R. Griffey, Alice Neel: People Come First, exh, cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2021, p. 104). The wood paneling of the white wall is delineated in simple strokes of blue paint, and the glass vase is efficiently rendered in a few elucidating outlines. The result, however, conveys all the depth and richness of real life.

In Light, Neel edges closer than ever before to the pioneers of American modernism, including Charles Sheeler, Edward Hopper and Robert Henri. As an artist who rejected the utopian idealism of twentieth century modernism, opting instead to put “people first,” it is surprising that, in retrospect, so many of Neel’s paintings engage so heartily in a dialogue with these American masters. The overall palette, composition, and shadows in Light call to mind Hopper’s spare studies of light and form.
“Let’s not forget the dazzling reality of Neel’s paintings as objects, the insistence of her color, light and flattened compositions… […] This array confirms Neel as...destined for icon status.”(R. Smith, “It’s Time to Put Alice Neel in Her Rightful Place in the Pantheon,” The New York Times, April 2, 2021, p. C1)

Though Neel’s ingenious blend of both realism and abstraction at times made her work difficult to categorize, today her iconic and singular style is fully recognized and celebrated. Neel’s contribution is now firmly acknowledged, and her paintings are recognized to be both of their moment and timeless, placing her alongside such enduring modern masters as Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh and Georgia O’Keeffe. The New York Times’ chief art critic, Roberta Smith, wrote recently, “Today, she is a cult figure, an early feminist, inborn bohemian, erstwhile Social Realist, lifelong activist and staunchly representational painter who bravely persisted, depicting the people and world around her through the heydays of Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Minimalism. […] Let’s not forget the dazzling reality of Neel’s paintings as objects, the insistence of her color, light and flattened compositions… […] This array confirms Neel as...destined for icon status” (R. Smith, “It’s Time to Put Alice Neel in Her Rightful Place in the Pantheon,” The New York Times, April 2, 2021, p. C1).

Proceeds from the sale of this spectacular painting, from the personal collection of Barbara and Theodore Alfond, Rollins class of 1968, will benefit the construction of the new Rollins Museum of Art in Winter Park, Florida, which is set to break ground in 2023. The broad holdings of the museum across all time periods and media include The Alfond Collection of Contemporary Art, which was established to serve as a “visual syllabus” for a liberal arts education. The goal of the collection is to augment the college’s curriculum across all fields and encourage visually literate, culturally aware, global citizens.

Founded in 1885, Rollins College is the oldest recognized college in Florida, and is ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the number one regional college in the south. This new museum will allow for further student and faculty interaction with the entire collection while also supporting the high level of cultural engagement of the Winter Park community at large.
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