The Met Museum of Art in New York City is home to a painting by Alice Neel that has been the subject of much speculation. In this article, the author analyzes the painting from an FBI perspective and discusses how it may have been painted during a time when women were being accused of poisoning their husbands.
The Art of Alice Neel is a new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that will feature over 100 paintings and drawings by Alice Neel. The exhibit will be on view from March 2021 through January 2022.
There’s something to be said about keeping a photograph unnamed, particularly if it’s about a single person. My argument is illustrated by a painting professor I had in graduate school who described how he went about titling a piece.
The game of naming
When he couldn’t think of a name for one of his paintings, the painting professor used the Surrealist technique of selecting a beloved book, opening it at random, and placing a finger on a page without checking to see where it fell. When he did this with James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake,” he came up with the phrase “The homely Protestant,” which he claimed was ideal since it represented what he was painting – himself.
(Note: Despite being an Abstract Expressionist, he claimed that “The Homely Protestant” is figurative.)
However, the term does not apply to the guy I knew. Robert Motherwell was his name, and he wasn’t very attractive, which brings me back to my original point: there’s something to be said about leaving a painting unnamed. Consider “Peggy,” a work in the Met’s current show “Alice Neel: People Come First.”
In an article for Hyperallergic, art historian Debra Brehmer describes “Peggy” as a “haunting picture of domestic violence.” I don’t think so. I only saw Peggy’s head on a pillow, bleary-eyed, like one does after waking up from a nap. As if extending, her arms are twisted in the air. The arms, according to Brehmer, are broken.
Observation of events
Brehmer interprets the blurry eyes as “directed inward to the anguish indicated by her downcast lips.” But can’t the end of a yawn accomplish the same thing? She also cites Peggy’s facial injuries, even referring to them as “forensic proof.” It seems that the historian is binge-watching “Criminal Minds” on television.
Isn’t there another way to see bruises – as unkempt curls, as bed hair?
Check out the still life, which has an undisturbed dish of apples on Peggy’s bedside table as proof that everything is OK. If there was domestic violence, you wouldn’t expect it to be so beautiful and serene.
Yet, according to Brehmer, the picture contains evidence of a violent crime: “This is a depiction of someone lost in her own circuits of despair,” she says, even assuming that Peggy was “beaten by her husband.” Why is he here?
Why not enlist the help of a handyman? Or is it a lover?
There’s more to come. One of Peggy’s right-hand fingers “tremulously brushes a wound, reactivating the memories,” according to Brehmer. You may be wondering whose memory this historian is really activating at this point.
Finally, Brehmer draws attention to a “black cut” under Peggy’s left eye. If you’re acquainted with Neel’s work, you’ll notice that black circles occur often beneath her subjects’ eyes.
To be fair, Peggy, Neel’s next-door neighbor, was discovered dead from an overdose of sleeping pills as her husband slept next her in a drunken stupor. I guess one might picture Peggy as a victim of domestic abuse based on that facts.
But here’s the thing: there’s a catch. A painting is created without words in order for people to experience it via their senses and to think for themselves. That shouldn’t be hindered by picture titles.
DISCLAIMER: ALL RIGHTS ARE RESERVED
The alice neel children is a painting by Alice Neel. It depicts her three children, and she wrote up the painting like an FBI profiler.
- alice neel metropolitan museum
- alice neel paintings
- alice neel met museum dates
- alice neel biography