A self-proclaimed “collector of souls,” the American painter Alice Neel (1900–1984) is known today for her powerful, psychologically rich portraiture. She depicted a wide range of subjects, from her family and friends to prominent critics, artists, activists, and strangers she met on the street. In this rarely seen documentary, Neel’s signature candor and wit are on full display.
Providing a brief biographical sketch from her early marriage and the Great Depression through her later years in Spanish Harlem, the film also shows the artist at work on a portrait of Lucille Rhodes, who co-directed with Margaret Murphy. Excerpted from Rhodes and Murphy’s “They Are Their Own Gifts” (1978), a triptych of “film portraits” about women artists that also includes chapters on the poet and activist Muriel Rukeyser as well as the dancer and choreographer Anna Sokolow. Cinematography by the legendary Babette Mangolte.