When asked why she chose to paint pregnancy in this way, Neel explained:
It isn’t what appeals to me, it’s just a fact of life. It’s a very important part of life and it was neglected. I feel as a subject it’s perfectly legitimate, and people out of a false modesty, or being sissies, never show it, but it is a basic fact of life. Also, plastically, it is very exciting . . . I think it’s part of the human experience. Something that primitives did, but modern painters have shied away from because women were always done as sexual objects. A pregnant woman has a claim staked out; she is not for sale.
Nudity is employed to different effect in Cindy Nemser and Chuck, 1975, a tender portrait of the groundbreaking feminist art critic and curator and her husband, the coeditor of her Feminist Art Journal. Neel wanted to paint Nemser years earlier, but she had declined out of fear about how she would be depicted. In 1975 Nemser agreed to sit for Neel: “I believed she was the foremost portrait painter of the 20th century, and I considered it an honor to sit for her even if my portrayal didn’t turn out to be flattering.” The couple dressed up for their sitting, making an effort to wear fashionable clothes, shoes, and jewelry. As Nemser later described, “Alice took one look at us and said, ‘Oh, all those clothes, and that Mickey Mouse jewelry! . . . I just painted a dentist, so bourgeois.’ She said, ‘I know, I’ll paint you in the nude.’” Husband and wife appear unclothed, holding each other close and covering each other’s bodies. Their nudity is not a pretext for eroticism but a shared condition, a physical expression of their intimacy made even clearer by their instinct to protect one another.