Her social commitment was very strong, which inevitably slowed her career. How does this involvement translate in her work?
Throughout her life, Neel produced often unflattering portraits of women. As early as the 1930s, she started painting female nudes. Up until then, it was a territory that was dominated by male artists. Her frontal nudes were done without any seductive aim – these are harsh paintings to contemplate.
In the ’60s, she began painting portraits of pregnant women, mothers and children, and was an important figure for feminism and female artists. She depicted women in their daily work, whereas the norm in the 19th century was to represent scenes of the bourgeoisie or aristocratic women surrounded by their offspring, whose care was entrusted to nurses. Neel, on the contrary, showed the world of women and children who worked to ensure their existence.
At what point in her life did her career as an artist really take shape?
She was always an artist and, at a time when few women artists who became mothers continued to work, Neel integrated her artistic work with her family obligations. Thus, when her children were very young, she found a job in a nursery that her children were able to attend. Then, when they started school, she started her artistic practice full-time again. In the ’30s, she was employed by the Works Progress Administration – this was when she produced urban landscapes. But her career really took shape in the ’60s after gaining strength from some early commercial success.