In 1953 Alice Neel created a series of ink and gouache drawings depicting the last weeks of her mother’s life, which were spent in a New York city hospital.
In this drawing, a black nurse comforts a prone elderly lady. The pale hues of the painting–blue, black, white–evoke a somber mood and imply sickness. This sense of despair is augmented by a harsh cityscape background beyond a dark river, which the viewer sees through a window.
Compassion counters these desolate surroundings, however, for a bond is apparent between the nurse and elderly patient. The nurse’s hands rest on the patient in a partial cradling gesture, and the trajectory of the lines made by the nurse’s arms and hands and the elderly patient’s flowing hair establishes a visual and emotional link. The connection between the two figures is supplemented by the thin smiles on both women’s faces.