Raphael Soyer was a U.S. painter and printmaker. Born in Borisoglebsk, Russia, Raphael Soyer was one of three of the six Soyer children – along with his twin brother Moses Soyer and younger brother Isaac Soyer – who became artists. In 1912, when the family was forced to leave Russia because their
Right to Live permit was revoked, they immigrated to the United States, settling in the Bronx.
After taking drawing classes at the Cooper Union (1914–17), Soyer studied at the National Academy of Design (1918–22) and the Art Students League, where he attended classes intermittently from 1920 until 1926. Soyer enjoyed his first one-man show at New York's Daniel Gallery in 1929. It was there that his painting Dancing Lesson (1926, Collection Renee and Chaim Gross, New York), often understood as the exemplar of Jewish American art, was first exhibited publicly.
Throughout his career, Soyer was interested in Social Realist themes, which he both painted and showed in prints. During the Great Depression he often created dark-hued, compassionate renderings of the down-and-out in works such as In the City Park (1934, private collection, New York).
Soyer retreated into his studio in the 1940s and 1950s. Indeed, self-portraits at his easel and studio scenes of female nudes comprise Soyer's artistic interests at this time, as did portraits of his artist-friends and artists he admired. At a 1941 one-man show at the Associated American Artists Gallery, 23 of Soyer's artist-portraits were exhibited in a section entitled
My Contemporaries and Elders. Among the paintings displayed were portraits of Phillip Evergood and Abraham Walkowitz.
In the late 1950s, Soyer started to paint outdoor scenes again, most of which were figurative canvases, such as Farewell to Lincoln Square (1959, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.). Inspired by Soyer's eviction from the Lincoln Arcade Building, where he kept a studio for 14 years, the large, colorful painting includes a self-portrait of the artist.
Remaining a representational artist in an abstract art scene, Soyer founded the periodical Reality: A Journal of Artists' Opinions, published annually from 1953 to 1955 to declare the importance of imaging
man and his world.
After meeting Isaac Bashevis Singer in the elevator of his New York apartment building, Soyer worked on several projects with the Yiddish writer. Soyer illustrated a Limited Editions Club publication of two Singer stories,
The Gentleman from Cracow and
The Mirror (1979), and the second and third volumes of Singer's memoirs, A Young Man in Search of Love (1978) and Lost in America (1981). Soyer chronicled aspects of his life in four autobiographies.
L. Goodrich, Raphael Soyer (1972); S. Cole, Raphael Soyer: Fifty Years of Printmaking, 1917 – 1967 (1978); M. Heyd and E. Mendelsohn. "Jewish' Art? The Case of the Soyer Brothers," in: Jewish Art (1993–94), 194–211; S. Baskind, Raphael Soyer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art (2004).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.