1936
January 28: Receives notice of a WPA pay adjustment (to $95.44 per month).
June: Art Front, the journal of the Artists’ Union, an informal group of young radical artists who demand government patronage for the arts, publishes an illustration of Neel’s painting Poverty, 1930, now known as Futility of Effort.
September: Exhibits at the A.C.A. Gallery, New York, in a show of the winners of honorable mention in a contest held by the American Artists’ Congress. This organization was founded in 1935 by a group of artists that included Stuart Davis, Louis Lozowick, and Moses Soyer. According to Davis’s introduction in First American Artists’ Congress (New York, 1936), their aim was to ‘achieve unity of action among artists of recognized standing in their profession on all issues which concern their economic and cultural security and freedom, and to fight War, Fascism and Reaction, destroyers of art and culture.’ Neel’s painting, Nazis Murder Jews, is singled out in a review by Emily Genauer in the New York World Telegram (September 12):
Alice Neel brandishes aloft the torch which she and the members of the Artists Union along with her hope will eventually lead to enlightenment and the destruction of Fascism. One, depicting a workers’ parade, would be an excellent picture from the point of view of color, design and emotional significance if the big bold black-and-white sign carried by one of the marchers at the head of the parade, didn’t throw the rest of the composition completely out of gear by serving to tear a visual hole in the canvas.
1937
July: Neel is hospitalized for a miscarriage in her sixth month of pregnancy. Her mother writes to her at Gotham Hospital in New York (July 12, Neel Archives): ‘You poor child suffering so, and no one with you ... you were sick longer than with Isabetta. I am so very sorry for you but for myself delighted, you don’t realize all you would have had to face.’ Nadya Olyanova (Mrs. Egil Hoye) also writes to Alice from Stormville, New York, asking her to visit and promising to take care of her (July 16, Neel Archives): ‘Could you get some word to me some way? Through John perhaps? Take care of yourself as your mother says, “Alice don’t get wreckless.”’ Sometime after her hospitalization, she moves with Negron to 129 MacDougal Street in the Village.
July 10: Receives notice of another WPA pay adjustment (to $91.10 per month).
1938
Moves to Spanish Harlem (East Harlem), 8 East 107th Street, with Negron.
May 2-21: Exhibits sixteen paintings in her first solo exhibitions in New York City, at Contemporary Arts, 38 West 57th Street. Howard Devree, a critic for the New York Times, writes (May 8): ‘Alice Neel in her debut at Contemporary Arts tempers her firm constructions with a somewhat sardonic humor in which a couple of remarkable cats play a part. Her “Classic Fronts” (red brick facades) and a still-life with torso and sprays of foliage are outstanding in the show. It is an excellent “first”.’
Neel is included in at least three group shows at Contemporary Arts this year.
May 23-June 4: Shows four paintings in the exhibition The New York Group at the A.C.A. Gallery. Also in the show are Jules Halfant, Jacob Kainen, Herb Kruckman, Louis Nisonoff, Herman Rose, Max Schnitzler, and Joseph Vogel. The exhibition brochure declares:
The New York Group is interested in those aspects of contemporary life which reflect the deepest feelings of the people: their poverty, their surroundings, their desire for peace, their fight for life. However, we believe that this laudable attitude can best be transformed into living art by utilizing the living tradition of painting. There must be no talking down to the people; we number ourselves among them. Pictures must appeal as aesthetic images which are social judgements at the same time.
1939
February 5-18: Exhibits three paintings in the second exhibition of the New York Group at the A.C.A. Gallery. In the brochure, the poet Kenneth Fearing writes:
With its second showing, The New York Group gives lively emphasis to its original program ... These pictures ... are as savage, as primitive, as man is in today’s civilization, as sensitive, as the individual is against the contemporary background of sheer chaos. That, essentially, is the point that these pictures, esthetically sound and socially valuable, make through the separate and distinct personalities of this exhibit.
July 18: Receives notice of a WPA pay adjustment (to $90.00 per month).
Summer: Isabetta travels from Havana to visit Neel who is in Spring Lake with her parents and Jose Negron.
Neel visits the World Fair in New York with John Rothschild.
August 17: Neel is terminated from the WPA.
September 14: Birth of Neel’s and Negron’s son, Neel, later called Richard.
October 24: Alice Neel is reassigned to the WPA.
December: Negron leaves Neel and his 3-month-old son. According to Neel he met a saleswoman at Lord and Taylor.
1939-40
Winter: Meets Sam Brody (1907-1985), a photographer and filmmaker who was one of the founding members of the Film and Photo League, a radical filmmaking cooperative. She and Brody begin a relationship. He is married and has two children, Julian and Mady, of whom Neel paints several portraits. (He will marry again later and will have one more son, David, whom Neel will also paint). They will live on and off together for the next two decades.
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Negron with Neel’s parents and his daughter Sheila at Spring Lake, N.J. railroad station 1939
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Isabetta standing with Negron’s guitar 1939
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Neel sitting with her mother in Spring Lake, holding Negron’s guitar 1939
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Isabetta in Spring Lake with Neel’s parents and Neel, pregnant with her third child, Richard 1939 (photo presumed taken by Negron)
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Neel and Sam Brody c.1940