Linda Nochlin and Daisy, 1973
Linda Nochlin and Daisy depicts a middle-aged mother and young daughter seated on Neel’s Empire sofa. Nochlin, clad in khaki pants and matching shoes, crosses her legs tightly as she leans slightly back behind her daughter Daisy. Her left hand, resting on the sofa’s arm, appears bony and thin. The right hand is more hidden yet it rests on Daisy in a protective manner. Nochlin is shown as tense and rigid, with an air of anxious intelligence. The purple and yellow of Nochlin’s clothes flow into Daisy’s golden hair, bright blue and ultramarine outfit, and ultimately her little red shoes. The clothing is casual and wrinkled while the wearers are unusually stiff. While both Mother and daughter stare directly ahead, the viewer’s eye is drawn to young Daisy’s wide stare and open mouth. Her youthful face is vibrant and inquisitive and her demeanor reveals impatience at having to pose. In contrast, Nochlin’s worried and tired wrinkles create a face which is almost caricature and mask-like. “It is a cruel portrayal,” expressed Henry Hope, “of a not unattractive woman.” The disparity in color, texture and emotion underlines the difference in ages of these two females. Yet concurrently, Daisy’s right arm mirrors her mothers and the two bodies sit in nearly identical poses, thus hinting at their similarities.
Nochlin’s face is at the peak of the triangular composition, the place to which the viewer’s eye is usually drawn in paintings. By pulling one’s eye to Daisy, Neel may be suggesting the importance and potential of our youth. Though unrelated, it is important to note that the sofa upon which they sit is the same one Neel often used for posed subjects. Normally vaguely sketched, the sofa is elaborately decorated it for this occasion. The patterned green silk and mahogany trimmed couch rests royally upon a golden carpet, perhaps mirroring Daisy’s golden locks. This was the first and only time Neel depicted its fabric covering in such detail. While we do not have an explanation for the detailed sofa, there exists a commentary [on] this painting’s sittings. Neel dictated neither the pose nor the gesture,
Instead she wanted her sitters to behave naturally and to choose the way they wished to sit. During the sitting, Neel proceeded to talk to them, amusing Daisy with fairy tales and recounting episodes of her early life her politics, and her past to counter the boredom of the process of posing. What evolved was an atmosphere of reciprocity that lasted the six sittings they shared and during which Neel saw it as her task to both paint and amuse the child.
A conscious stream of dialogue and discussion while painting was characteristic of Neel’s painting style. While she would stir up controversial debates and offer a running monologue during some sittings, this quote reveals Alice catering to her ‘audience’. While Neel may have been attempting to counter the boredom of sitting for a portrait, Linda Nochlin finds this emotion to be present in all Neel’s work. In addition to capturing the monotony, this painting captures Linda's inner anxiety. As she recalls, “My mother was horrified by the portrait. She said, ‘You don’t look so anxious and so worried in real life.’ I’m rather a smiling type, actually. But Alice painted everyone like that. In a way, all her portraits embody the anxieties of their times. They’re portraits of a universal existential anxiety. But they also embody, on a more literal level, the relative painfulness of sitting for a portrait.” Neel’s recognition and furthermore, depiction of both the instantaneous and repressed emotions supplies us with a painting of real humans with whom any viewer can sympathize and moreover, relate.
Linda Nochlin (1931-) a prominent art historian and feminist, has written extensively on Nineteenth Century French Realist painters such as Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas. She is best known for the previously noted article “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” which debatably introduced the feminist movement to the art world. At the time of this painting, Nochlin was teaching at Vassar College. Today, she is the Lila Cheson Wallace Professor of Modern Art at New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts. By this time, Neel had produced a number of portraits of women as strong individuals. When Neel heard of Nochlin’s pioneering feminist work, “not only in the historical recovery of female agency and her championing of contemporary women artists, but also in her crucial understanding of the social history of women’s oppression and the politics of the erotic,” she approached Nochlin about sitting for a portrait. In a later interview, Nochlin admitted, “I don’t know how my daughter got into it, but she did. I was very fortunate, because my daughter is definitely the star of the portrait.” This was no mistake. Neel purposely chose to paint Nochlin as a woman and mother rather than a writer or critic, in her ‘modern urban maternity.’ This invented phrase speaks to the contemporary double life of the female intellectual, in which the arch feminist takes on the dual roles of both mother and thinker. Moreover, this tension can be understood as a biographical echo of Neel’s own struggle with being a mother and a painter.
Linda and Daisy introduces the theme of the double life of the female intellectual, but does not resolve it. Neel does not offer a solution because she, in her own personal life, continuously struggled with it and never resolved it herself. The tension between Neel’s responsibilities (as a wife and mother) and her insatiable urge to paint led Neel to make questionable decisions. When asked why she gave up custody of her first child, she replied; “You see, I always had this awful dichotomy. I loved Isabetta, of course I did. But I wanted to paint.” And thus painting prevailed over society’s prescribed motherly role.
Early on, her overpowering desire to paint left Neel with a lingering guilt; “because I used to think the way the normal world thinks: there’s a certain function for women, that they have to do the ordinary things.” This ‘certain function’ of which Neel speaks has become a common figure in American culture, the notion of a stay-at-home Mother who cooks, cleans and raises children. Neel could not succumb to this “normal” life. “So I was the world’s best conniver,” she reports, “When the children were small, I worked at night, which was hard to do.” By refusing society’s proscriptions for a woman’s life, Neel fashioned a life for herself in which she was both the painter and mother, yet she did not stop here. Neel debunked the myth of “blissful all-absorbing motherhood,” as did so many working women in their real lives. Moreover, she sought to share similar stories in her 1970’s paintings of women and children, such as Linda and Daisy. By creating pieces of art that displayed these women, Neel broadcast the message that such a way of life was nothing to be ashamed of.