When I consider the word ‘loneliness’, Alice Neel’s painting of the same name immediately comes to mind. It is one of my favourite works of art. There is something almost sublime about the sheer emptiness of the image – an emptiness not just of people, but also of objects. The chair stands alone, in a space devoid of all else, even sound, or so it seems. I heard someone say this week that poetry is the closest thing we have to silence. Loneliness reflects a poetic silence, a soundlessness evocative of the emotional experience that it considers.

The chair sits by a window. Through it we see other windows, behind which we suspect are similarly empty and silent rooms.

Loneliness was created in 1970. Neel commented at the time that the painting was as close as she had come to a self-portrait.

Neel’s painting successfully encapsulates that intangible yet almost palpable sense of emptiness, of hollowness, and of visceral soundlessness, thus visually conveying loneliness, an experience that can be challenging to share, and a word that has no adequate verbal synonym.