Wednesday, February 20, 2019: Due to the impact of the approaching storm, PAFA will be closed. Students will still have access to their studios.

Clement Greenberg's Daughter

Alice Neel

Clement Greenberg's Daughter


Alice Neel (1900-1984)




Oil on canvas


46 x 32 in. (116.84 x 81.28 cm.)

Accession #:


Credit Line:

Alexander Harrison Fund


© The Estate of Alice Neel, Courtesy David Zwirner, New York

The painting depicts Sarah Greenberg, daughter of the famous art critic and champion of the New York School, Clement Greenberg, sitting on a chair, leaning towards the viewer - as if she is ready to spring out of the picture plane. The awkward perspective (the sitter's left leg, the decorative pattern on the floor) and the picture's "unfinished" look are Neel trademarks. Neel always emphasized the centrality of the figure in her portraits, lavishing attention on the sitter at the expense of background imagery. Many paintings of this time period have even starker, more minimal backgrounds. However, Neel has not completely shunned detail in this work - note the exquisite attention to the delicate lace pattern that rings the sitter's collar and cuffs on her dress.

It is perhaps ironic that Clement Greenberg, forever associated with his belief in the victory of abstraction over representational art, would dare to endorse a portrait of a family member. However, Neel's gestural approach to painting might have intrigued Greenberg. In any event, it is tempting to imagine the heated discussions that might have ensued as Neel worked on Sarah's portrait in the presence of the child's father. However, the girl appeared for sittings accompanied by her nanny, not the dogmatic critic.