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Neel_Mollenkopf

Alice Neel, John Mollenkopf, 1970
Oil on canvas, 52 x 39 3/4
David Winton Bell Gallery, Gift of Dr. Hartley Neel 

Alice Neel, John Mollenkopf,1970

Considered “the Collector of Souls”, Neel’s numerous portrait subjects stretched across socioeconomic lines and featured a wide range of personalities.[1] Here, a young John Mollenkopf is depicted finely coiffed and barefoot at the age of twenty-four. Neel utilized warm, neutral, and grey tones throughout the canvas except for in painting Mollenkopf’s pupils where she chose a particularly cool and bright ice blue. This effect emphasizes Mollenkopf’s contemplative expression and reveals his cerebral persona.

Alice Neel was introduced to John Mollenkopf through her son Hartley and daughter-in-law Ginny Neel. “John and [his first wife] Cynthia used to visit us in Vermont and Alice painted John in our house here,” Ginny describes. “I think [Cynthia and John] met when John was getting his Phd at Harvard and Cynthia was at Harvard Law School.” Today, Mollenkopf is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology and Director of the Center for Urban Research at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York.[2]

This painting was produced at a particularly fruitful time for Neel and marks the beginning of a rise in recognition for her work. Within the same year, Neel’s portrait of Kate Millett was featured on the cover of Time magazine, her son Hartley was married, and she painted Andy Warhol (a portrait once deemed her “masterpiece”).[3] Just a few years later, Neel had her first retrospective exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, showcasing fifty-eight of her portraits.[4]

Hartley Neel donated this painting to Brown University in 1995. His son, Andrew, is a documentary filmmaker. His daughter, Elizabeth, is a Brown alumna and practicing artist based out of New York City.

-Liz Crawford, Curatorial Assistant


[1] Mackenzie, Suzie. The Guardian, “Heroes and wretches.” Last modified 2004. Accessed January 22, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2004/may/29/art.

[2] Alice Neel Estate, “Alice Neel Biography.” Last modified 2013. Accessed January 22, 2014. http://www.aliceneel.com/biography/1970.shtml.

[3] Lewison, Jeremy. “Alice Neel Collector of Souls.”Moderna Musset, 2008. http://www.aliceneel.com/articles/pdf/MMNU.pdf (accessed January 22, 2014).

[4] Ginny Neel, (Daughter-in-law), interview by Elizabeth Crawford, January 15, 2014.

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