Investigation of Poverty at the Russell Sage Foundation

Alice Neel

Alice Neel made her first major works in the midst of the Great Depression. In the 1930s she was active in a circle of political-minded radical artists, writers and intellectuals in New York. Although Neel eventually became famous as an insightful and uncompromising portraitist, her interest in depicting humanity originated in this period. In an interview, Neel described the circumstances behind this painting. She recalled, "The woman seated in a chair in the middle was living with her seven children under an overturned automobile-that was their house. She had a rash all over her chest. And these two old men at the side were just a couple of old wretches from Bleeker Street. In reverse proportion to their position in life are these people's sympathies. The secretaries do look sympathetic. The priest looks a bit sympathetic. The others are just listening. The Russell Sage Foundation never gave a penny to the poor, but they investigated the poor. Out of that came social security and welfare, but before that, you just starved to death."
Date of Birth
Oil on canvas
24 1/8 x 30 1/8 in. (61.2775 x 76.5175 cm.)
Accession #
Credit Line
Art by Women Collection, Gift of Linda Lee Alter