“Self-Portrait” by Edith Neff., 1971, is part of the Our Town exhibit opening at the Woodmere Art Museum on Sept. 21. The painting was a gift to the museum from Dr. Barbara Torpie and Dr. Richard Torpie.

by Christine Wolkin

To kick off its fall 2019 season, Woodmere Art Museum is welcoming guests to the first-large scape exhibition of realist painter Edith Neff in more than two decades.

“Our Town: A Retrospective of Edith Neff” will include first-hand perspectives and commentary from family members, friends, as well as a chronology of Neff’s career.

Edith Neff (1943-95) was a leading realist painter in her day who took inspiration from everyday life in Philadelphia, where she was not only raised but went to school, graduated and eventually taught. Neff received a BFA in 1965 from the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) and served on the faculty at PCA and at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

“I’ve always been a Philadelphia artist. These are the streets I grew up in, the people I knew, my own family,” the artist said in a previous interview.

Working from photographs she took, Neff created portraits of family, fellow artists and colleagues, friends, neighbors, and students, in addition to self-portraits. Philadelphia’s urban context is an element in her work that appeared throughout her career; she typically depicted public places and buildings, as well as playgrounds, parks, schools and beaches.

Neff’s work has been praised for capturing the drama in ordinary life, for her dynamic compositions, her sophisticated use of color. Most notably, her work explored and challenged questions of race, gender and identity, probing the social and cultural fabric of Philadelphia residents.

Said the artist of her work, “I always think of paintings as being somehow on an eternal plane, and what I’m trying to do is eternalize one moment. I’m trying to create a kind of dream reality. And in that sense my paintings are symbolic.”

“Our Town” will be on view from Sept. 21 through Jan. 19, 2020.

The following events will accompany the retrospective:

• Open to the public | Saturday, Sept. 21

• Members Tour | Saturday, Sept. 28, 1 p.m.

• Open House Reception | Saturday, Sept. 28, 2-4 p.m.

• Lecture | Saturday, Oct. 5, 3 p.m.: “On Edith Neff” by Bill Scott, artist

• Community Night | Thursday, Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m.

“Our Town: A Retrospective of Edith Neff” by lecturer William Valerio, Director and CEO, Woodmere Art Museum. Co-presented by Woodmere and Mount Airy Learning Tree.

• Lecture | Saturday, Oct. 26, 3 p.m.: “Edith Neff: Myths of Modern Life” by lecturer Patricia Likos Ricci, professor of history of art and director of the Fine Arts Department, Elizabethtown College

• Lecture | Monday, Nov. 4, 1:30 p.m.

“The Echo of My Gaze: Edith Neff, James Elkins, and How We Connect with Art” by Susan Shifrin, Philadelphia-based art historian, curator, and executive director of ARTZ Philadelphia

• Teacher Workshop | Saturday, November 9, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

“Teaching the Elements of Story and Social Engagement through the Narrative Art of Edith Neff”

Additional events will be announced at a later date.

Woodmere, which holds the largest collection of Neff’s works, is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday and offers free admission on Sundays.

Visit WoodmereArtMuseum.org for more information.

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