Alice Neel painted this portrait of Mrs. Roensch while she was living in Spanish Harlem, around the time of the Great Depression. In this era of her life, her subjects were friends and neighbors, most of them as modest as she was, acting as her pro-bono studio models.
Early portraits such as this demonstrate a remarkable psychological intensity sympathetic with the reactionary charisma of Francis Picabia's portraits from the 1930's and 40's. Like the Spanish iconoclast, Neel was a courageous painter, showing little interest in pleasing either her subjects or the artistic order at the time. This painting is a stunning example of Neel's artistic development, marking the beginning of her fearless career as one of the twentieth centuries most celebrated portraitists.