Painting of the day: Alice Neel’s Roses

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Roses by Alice Neel

Painting NameRoses
Painter NameAlice Neel
Completion Date1983
Size48 1/2 x 36 inches

Alice Neel’s Roses is a rather morbid depiction of such an auspicious flower. Painted in 1983, the work carries a sense of dereliction in the subject. Although it can be categorized as a still life painting, it is contemporary work nevertheless. As a result, it has to carry something that is a definite part of modern psyche. If you noticed art through the post-Second World War period, there was a sense of renewal in the western world. Government expenditures went down, the economy revived in New York, and Alice Neel was rubbing shoulders with people who lived in avant-garde architecture while she was very young.

While we can keep profiling a New York artist endlessly, it is also important to notice the rather overused trend of making the painting subjects look less than what they are. This is almost diametrically challenging to the art forms in which the physical beauty of the subject had to be emphasized through skillful coloring and definitions.

Alice Neel’s roses are simply what she sees. As a woman who lived through the 1970s, Nixon, American Suffragettes, USA and New York, roses might have meant something different from what it means for you and me today. It was a world of confusion, war money paralyzing the economy and people shrugging off moral bindings. A rose, in the middle of all this, could easily suffer dereliction in the eyes of a sensitive woman.

If you notice the entire work in detail, you will notice that the wall is not in the best of conditions, and neither does Neel want us to believe anything good about the little stand.

The roses have a bit of color, but that’s all. What one could debate today is whether the roses carried any hope for Neel. From the solitude of the subject in this still life oil-on-canvas, I would risk believing this vase was kept somewhere Neel visited or stayed, often by herself.


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