Soyer, Raphael

Raphael Soyer

 (AM. 1899-1987)

Born in Borisoglebsk, Russia in 1899, Raphael Soyer is identified as a Social Realist* painter because of his interest in the common man, although he avoided subjects that were particularly critical of society. Soyer moved with his family to the Lower East Side of New York City in 1913, after they were deported from Russia by the Tsarist regime. His father, a Hebrew teacher and writer, encouraged artistic and intellectual pursuits. His popularity with his students in Russia and his liberal ideas led to problems for him with the authorities, and he was forced to leave with his family. Soyer left school at sixteen to help support the family. He attended free classes at Cooper Union* and at the National Academy of Design*. Guy Pene du Bois, a teacher at the Art Students League*, recognized his talent and introduced him to Charles Daniel, who gave him his first solo exhibition in 1929. The success of this event secured his position as a professional artist. The experience of immigrant life in the United States provided him with a rich source of imagery for his art, which was sensitive, penetrating portrayals including transients, shoppers, dancers, and fellow artists. Near his studio in Manhattan’s Lower East Side he observed his fellow New Yorkers. His subjects were portrayed with strong, flat colors, which evoked a sense of isolation. Common themes were intimate studies of solitary women, often nudes, and portraits of fellow artists, reflecting his great affection and admiration for them. Soyer’s most frequent model was himself, often posed with pencil or brush in hand, as in Self-Portrait ca. 1927, and his work was mainly in oil and lithography*. He did not accept commissions for portraits because his interest was with the private person and the effects of the modern world on the psyche, rather than a public facade. Artists he admired, such as Rembrandt, Degas, and Eakins, he felt were dedicated to showing their times truthfully, and emphasized inner character more than physical beauty. Both of Soyer’s brothers, Moses and Isaac, were also artists. With his identical twin Moses, he painted murals for the post office in Kingessing, Pennsylvania. He also taught at the Art Students League. He was a co-founder of Reality magazine and champion of Realism* at a time when Abstract Expressionism* dominated the American art scene. The Depression’s economic difficulties could be seen in his subjects, and unemployed men caught Soyer’s eye. Women at work became a theme with Soyer after 1940. On November 4, 1987, he died in New York. Source: