8 March 2017


There was an exhibition of Alice Neel’s work in Edinburgh last year, this painting (Ginny and Elizabeth 1976) was on show and there was a useful article in the FT by Rachel Spence which said ‘The only portrait here of Neel’s signature mother-and-child theme is, certainly, more disturbing. It features Neel’s daughter-in-law staring numbly at the floor as if barely aware of her daughter wedged between her legs. Little Elizabeth is equally disconnected, her eyes staring fretfully beyond the canvas and her inappropriately garish, lipstick-pink mouth betraying that something is awry in her infant world. Nevertheless the human drama struggles to win our attention away from the painting’s riveting background: a complex puzzle of light and shade that maps wall and floor in contrasting slabs of frosty grey, arctic blue, caramel and sand before slicing Ginny’s pink sweater straight through her heart.