Alice Neel: Portraits of Pregnancy
Alice Neel’s depiction of pregnant nudes painted between 1964 and 1975 was groundbreaking. Her reversal
of the conventional approach to the nude–as posed for the male gaze–was unprecedented in the history of Western art. Precursors to Neel include Gustav Klimt and his protégé, the Austrian Expressionist painter
Egon Schiele, yet both their depictions of pregnant women remain objectified as subjects of the male gaze. Painting for decades prior to the shift in mass consciousness resulting from the second wave feminist movement, Neel's portraits anticipated and contributed to the emergence of feminist art in the 1970s.
Using the opposing arguments on pregnancy and motherhood set forth by Simone de Beauvoir in The
Second Sex, 1949, and Julia Kristeva in her 1977 essay “Stabat Mater,” this thesis will analyze Neel’s series
of pregnant nudes through a feminist lens to show how Neel redefined the portrayal by painting it unapologetically from a woman's perspective.