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Carmen and Judy

Alice Neel American

Not on view

In one of Neel’s most powerful paintings, Carmen Gordon, the artist’s longtime housekeeper, cradles her infant daughter, Judy, in her arms. Life barely stirs in Judy, just enough for her to wrap her tiny hand around her mother’s fingers but not enough for her to latch onto Gordon’s proffered breast, a symptom of the disease that would contribute to her passing a short while later. Although Neel clearly admired and sympathized with Gordon, with whom she shared the personal tragedy of losing a child, the asymmetrical relationship between sitter and artist cannot be ignored. One of the very few people of color that Neel represented in a state of undress, and as Neel’s employee, Gordon was very much at the artist’s mercy. Here mother and daughter are exposed in more ways than one, with their nude bodies used to convey their vulnerability and personal distress and, by extension, to move and provoke the viewer.

Carmen and Judy, Alice Neel (American, Merion Square, Pennsylvania 1900–1984 New York), Oil on canvas

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