Alice Neel, Vera Beckerhoff, 1972. Oil on canvas, 60 × 32 inches (152.4 × 81.3 cm). Gift of Barbara Lee, The Barbara Lee Collection of Art by Women. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York/London/Hong Kong. © Alice Neel
Though a product of the early twentieth century, Alice Neel defined herself in opposition to the traditional expectations of her gender at that time. The honest and intimate representations of women she produced throughout her career carved out a space for feminist engagement with a genre that is often defined by the male gaze. In her works, she openly displays her empathy for her subjects, often people in her social circle, creating portraits that are tender, humorous, and frank.
Vera Beckerhoff belongs to a series of portraits that document the lively community of artists and activists with whom Neel consorted during the late 1960s and early ’70s. Beckerhoff, an artist who settled in Vermont, possesses a self-assured pose, deadpan facial expression, and direct gaze, all of which suggest confidence and a comfortable relationship with the portraitist. Beckerhoff’s manner of dress and self-presentation epitomize the bold unconventionality that emerged during the period.
Vera Beckerhoff contributes to the ICA/Boston’s holdings of works by female painters who employ expressive figuration, such as Marlene Dumas, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman, and Lisa Yuskavage. In addition, this work forms part of the ICA’s collection of work by female artists responding to second-wave feminism, such as Louise Bourgeois, Eva Hesse, Ana Mendieta, Ree Morton, Faith Wilding, and Cindy Sherman.