Alice Neel. Kenneth Fearing. 1935

Alice Neel Kenneth Fearing 1935

  • Not on view

In this portrait, Neel depicted the prominent Depression-era poet Kenneth Fearing, whom she had met soon after moving to Manhattan’s Greenwich Village in 1932. Seated centrally at a table or desk before an open book and below a gleaming light bulb, the poet appears to be at work. His likeness extends to the painting’s fantastically compressed surroundings, which glitter with details and vignettes that speak directly to Fearing’s life and work. The Sixth Avenue El train, which Fearing lived near and which he described as a source of inspiration, is pictured wrapping behind his head. The baby who rests on a small pillow beneath his wrist alludes to Fearing’s own newborn. These details are joined by a broad cast of characters and events culled from his prose: an injured soldier, a bride and groom, a scene of police brutality, and several impoverished-seeming figures, hunched over and with skull-like faces.

Much like Fearing’s poems, Neel’s portraits often depict the disenfranchised or, as in this case, those who championed them. “I always considered the human being the first premise,” she once declared of her art. “I feel his condition is a barometer of his era.” Speaking of the skeleton that emerges from Fearing’s heart, she explained, “He really sympathized with humanity. . . . His heart bled for the grief of the world.”

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
30 1/8 x 26" (76.5 x 66 cm)
Credit
Gift of Hartley S. Neel and Richard Neel
Object number
28.1988
Department
Painting and Sculpture

Installation views

MoMA collaborated with Google Arts & Culture Lab on a project using machine learning to identify artworks in installation photos.

If you notice an error, please contact us at digital@moma.org.

If you would like to reproduce an image of a work of art in MoMA’s collection, or an image of a MoMA publication or archival material (including installation views, checklists, and press releases), please contact Art Resource (publication in North America) or Scala Archives (publication in all other geographic locations).

All requests to license audio or video footage produced by MoMA should be addressed to Scala Archives at firenze@scalarchives.com. Motion picture film stills or motion picture footage from films in MoMA's Film Collection cannot be licensed by MoMA/Scala. For licensing motion picture film footage it is advised to apply directly to the copyright holders. For access to motion picture film stills please contact the Film Study Center. More information is also available about the film collection and the Circulating Film and Video Library.

If you would like to reproduce text from a MoMA publication or moma.org, please email text_permissions@moma.org. If you would like to publish text from MoMA’s archival materials, please fill out this permission form and send to archives@moma.org.

This record is a work in progress. If you have additional information or spotted an error, please send feedback to digital@moma.org.