New review: A family portrait, without sentimentality

Alice Neel’s portraits of pregnant women, mothers and children, undercut the romanticisation of motherhood, argues Sarah Blake

In an exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, Alice Neel demolishes cosy notions of family life. She strips the family portrait of sentimentality, and even suggests that the family might be dangerous.

Her portraits of mothers and babies show women drained of energy, their eyes wide and scared, weary or lifeless. The babies, by contrast, are ferociously energetic. They are grasping, needy, attention sucking.

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