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Moses Soyer

(1899-1974)


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Moses Soyer was a Jewish Russian-American painter and printmaker.

He was born in Borisoglebsk, Russia on December 25, 1899 to a large, impoverished Jewish family. Soyer’s father was a Hebrew teacher and writer and encouraged his children to explore artistic and intellectual pursuits. Moses’s twin, Raphael Soyer, and younger brother, Isaac, also became successful artists.

When the Soyer family was denied its Russian residence permit in 1912, the family immigrated to the United States and eventually settled in Bronx, New York. Moses Soyer studied art at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design, but left in favor of a more informal curriculum at the Ferrer Art School in Spanish Harlem, where many of his teachers ascribed to the Ashcan school of art. In the early twentieth century, artists associated with the Ashcan school believed New York should be captured through “realistic and unglamorized representations of everyday life.” Soyer studied under some of the more advanced Ashcan school artists, including Robert Henri and George Bellows. His first solo exhibition was in 1926, after which he was awarded a scholarship to study drawing in Europe.

Reflecting his training, Soyer’s early work focused on social-realist themes, often depicting New York and its population. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Soyer was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project to paint murals in government buildings throughout the country. His realist murals depicted people performing everyday tasks.

After World War II, Soyer continued painting as a realist while other artists began exploring Abstract Expressionism. His subject matter changed however, as he began focusing on the depiction of the female figure, and especially on ballet dancers. His work earned him recognition as a significant figure in the American realist movement. Soyer was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1963 and to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1966.

Moses Soyer’s work has been exhibited at many major art institutions including the Carnegie Institute, and the Pennsylvania Museum of Fine Arts and is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Soyer is also the author of Painting the Human Figure, which was published in 1964.


Sources: Phillips Collection, Art of the Print

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