Lent by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, courtesy of Hartley and Richard Neel, the artist's sons 2001
Kitty Pearson is the portrait of a flamboyant young graduate who had recently studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, based in Providence, Rhode Island. The sitter had been introduced to Neel by Nancy Selvage, a close friend of the artist's daughter-in-law Virginia (Ginny) Neel. Both Selvage and Pearson developed close friendships with the artist.
The setting for the work is the front room of Neel's West 107 Street apartment in New York, to where she had moved from her Spanish Harlem home in 1962. This room also functioned as the artist's studio and became the backdrop to the majority of her paintings from 1962 until her death. A pale blue wash sketches its walls, golden ochre indicates its hardwood floor: these simple tactics, repeated in the works painted in this room, became signifiers that placed Neel's sitters firmly in this familiar background…