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Female Gaze Friday: Alice Neel

Representations of the male figure in art are far less common than works depicting women. A long history of straight men dominating the art world has led to many images of winsome women, but fewer of beautiful men (I’ve written on this subject before; if you’d like to read more about the lack of male figures in art check it out here).

Every Female Gaze Friday I will post a woman-created work of art depicting a man—one small act to reverse the male gaze! Not all images will be provocative, many will be nonsexual or even disturbing. Hopefully this will be a way of learning more about women artists (as well as looking at dudes)!

This week we’ll look at a series of paintings by feminist artist Alice Neel:

Alice Neel, Ballet Dancer, 1950, oil on canvas, 20" x 42"

Alice Neel, Ballet Dancer, 1950, oil on canvas, 20″ x 42″

Alice Neel, John Perreault, 1972, oil on canvas, 38" x 63.5"

Alice Neel, John Perreault, 1972, oil on canvas, 38″ x 63.5″

Alice Neel, George Arce, 1959, oil on canvas, 36" x 25"

Alice Neel, George Arce, 1959, oil on canvas, 36″ x 25″

Alice Neel, T.B. Harlem, 1940, oil on canvas, 762 x 762 mm.

Alice Neel, T.B. Harlem, 1940, oil on canvas, 762 x 762 mm.

Alice Neel is one of my personal favorites. I find her work very inspiring, both for the content and for her technique. Over the past summer I interned with the Luce Foundation Center at the American Art Museum, and had the pleasure of seeing Neel’s Self Portrait every day in the adjacent hall of the National Portrait Gallery. A very impressive painting! Her thick lines and beautiful brushstrokes combined with her unique perspective on the human figure make her, in my opinion, one of the most notable painters of the 20th century.

I love the fact that Neel painted so many men. And not only that, she painted many men of color. In a world where art history classes are whitewashed and masculinized to such an extent, prominent artists like Neel remind me that work like this did exist (this is another opportunity to link to Medieval POC, a blog focusing on people of color in European art history. Gotta love the tag line, “Because you wouldn’t want to be historically inaccurate”)

And not only did Neel paint men, she painted sensual portraits of men. There is something undeniably elegant and sexual about her images of the ballet dancer or of John Perreault (see both above). The elongated limbs and the placement of the models so you see so much of their bodies, Neel’s portraits are unapologetically focused on serving the female gaze.

The fourth painting shown here, T.B. Harlem, is one of Neel’s most well-known work. This intimate portrait of her lover’s brother, Carlos Negrón, shows a young man of 24 suffering from tuberculosis. His bandaged chest comes from a thoracoplasty, a procedure in which doctors removed ribs in order to collapse and rest the TB infected lung. This portrait of Negrón elongates the figure, and reflects martyred Christ imagery.

This is far from all of Neel’s work. There are many more portraits of men and women, and I would recommend reading more about her life here. She led a fascinating existence.

You can see more of Neel’s work here. Check back on Fridays for more images of men by women. And feel free to suggest works of art or artists in the comments!

Take a look at our previous Female Gaze Friday: Erotic paintings by feminist artist, Joan Semmel.

One Comment

  1. Jim

    Melissa – I think its great what you are doing. It is very difficult to find a woman’s view of a naked man. I would definitely be interested in seeing some of your own work. Perhaps you could post some of it next Friday?


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