Alice Neel was devoted to the idea that “people’s images reflect the era in a way which nothing else could.” Working against the grain in an art world then focused on abstraction, Neel remained steadfast in making paintings of people—neighbors, art critics, and other artists in her community—from the 1920s to the 1980s. She attended to each individual she rendered with such care and attention that her portraits seem to capture the inner life of their subjects.
Neel met the painter Benny Andrews in 1966, when the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture organized a joint exhibition of their work. They became close, lifelong friends, and she depicted him here with his partner, photographer Mary Ellen Andrews. Andrews said of the experience of being painted by Neel, “It was so beguiling. She lulled you. And you can see it in my portrait. I am just lying in that chair.”