Raphael Soyer, a Russian-American urban realist painter, 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. Raphael’s twin, Moses 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. At sixteen, Raphael left school to help support the family, but took free classes at Cooper Union (1914-1917) and the National Academy of Design (1918-1922). Soyer also took classes at the Art Students League, where his teacher, Guy Pène du Bois, introduced him to Charles Daniel, an art dealer who organized Soyer’s first solo exhibition in 1929.
Soyer is known for his compassionate portrayal of urban New York, especially its office workers and unemployed. He joined the WPA Federal Art Project in the 1930’s. Soyer’s work during that time earned him a reputation as a Social Realist and champion of social justice. In the 1940’s, Soyer’s work shifted its focus from the urban environment to interior scenes – women at work or posing at his studio.
In 1953, Raphael Soyer founded the magazine Reality with his brother Moses. He edited Reality through 1955. Soyer later wrote Painter's Pilgrimage (1962), Homage to Thomas Eakins (1966), Self-Revealment: A Memoir (1969) and Diary of an Artist (1977). His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Phillips Collection as well as at many other museums and galleries. Soyer taught at the Art Students League, the New School and the National Academy of Design in New York. He died on November 4, 1987.
Sources: Phillips Collection, RoGallery, Butler Institute of American Art