Gallery owner Virginia Miller is quoted in the new biography, “Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty,” by Phoebe Hoban (St. Martin’s Press, NY). In 1978 Miller gave Neel a retrospective of works on paper along with two oils, her recently completed full-length portrait of Miller and a 1958 head-and-shoulders portrait of John Rothschild, one of Neel’s boyfriends.
Miller and Neel met when both were on panels at the New School, Hoban notes, and the artist asked Miller to pose in the same outfit she was wearing. “Soon afterward, Miller convinced Alice to allow her and her husband to scavenge for some of her more obscure works under her bed and in the depths of her closet” for an exhibition in Miller’s gallery in Coconut Grove.
Hoban then describes what happened when Miller sat for her full-length portrait. Neel became upset when she recalled how Henry Geldzahler said she wasn’t modern enough to be included in a show he curated. “And she screamed, “I’ll show him who’s modern,’ and began making slashing movements across the canvas,” Miller said, adding:
“She continued to slash, slash, slash and rail against the injustice of it all, then when I walked around and saw the canvas, and saw those green slashes across the background, I didn’t mind. They seemed to work. Mine is the only portrait with an Abstract Expressionist background, or even a green background. Some years later, Betty Parsons told me I was very brave, and said she never had the nerve to site for Alice.”
The new biography includes photos of several of the 45 watercolors and oils that were in Virginia’s Miller’s exhibition, including “Kenneth Doolittle, 1931,” “The Family, 1927,” and the oil on canvas of “John in Striped Shirt, 1958.”
Neel’s angular portrait of Miller, almost as long as her six-foot stature, is shown on the gallery web site under “Gallery History.”