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Raphael Soyer

Raphael Soyer
Born December 25, 1899
Borisoglebsk, Tambov Governorate (now in Voronezh Oblast)
Died November 4, 1987(1987-11-04) (aged 87)
New York
Nationality American
Education Cooper Union, National Academy of Design, Art Students League of New York
Known for Painting, Drawing, Printmaking
Movement Social Realism

Raphael Soyer (December 25, 1899 – November 4, 1987) was a Russian-born American painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Soyer was referred to as an American scene painter. He is identified as a Social Realist because of his interest in men and women viewed in contemporary settings which included the streets, subways, salons and artists' studios of New York City. He also wrote several books on his life and art.

His brothers Moses Soyer and Isaac Soyer were also painters.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Education as an artist 2
  • Career 3
  • Publications 4
  • References 5
  • Sources 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Raphael Soyer and his identical twin brother, Moses, were born in Borisoglebsk, Tambov, a southern province of Russia in 1899. Their father, Abraham Soyer, a Hebrew scholar, writer and teacher, raised his six children in an intellectual environment in which much emphasis was placed on academic and artistic pursuits. Due to Russian oppression, the Soyer family was forced to emigrate in 1912 to the United States, where they ultimately settled in the Bronx.

Education as an artist

Raphael pursued his art education at the free schools of the Cooper Union where he met Chaim Gross, who became a lifelong friend from that time. He continued his studies at the National Academy of Design and, subsequently, at the Art Students League of New York. While there, he studied with Guy Pene du Bois and Boardman Robinson, taking up the gritty urban subjects of the Ashcan school. After his formal education ended, Soyer became associated with the Fourteenth Street School of painters that included Reginald Marsh, Isabel Bishop, Kenneth Hayes Miller, Peggy Bacon and, his teacher, Guy Pene du Bois. Soyer persistently investigated a number of themes—female nudes, portraits of friends and family, New York and, especially, its people—in his paintings, drawings, watercolors and prints. He was adamant in his belief in representational art and strongly opposed the dominant force of abstract art during the late 1940s and early 1950s. Defending his position, he stated: "I choose to be a realist and a humanist in art." He was an artist of the Great Depression.


Beginning in the early 1930s, he showed regularly in the large annual and biennial American exhibitions of the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Carnegie Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design, and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. He had a series of solo exhibitions in New York galleries, and also worked in the WPA Federal Arts Project in the 1930s.

Soyer's teaching career began at the John Reed Club, New York, in 1930 and included stints at the Art Students League, the New School for Social Research and the National Academy. His work is in numerous museums including the Museum of Modern Art; The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University; The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.; The New York Public Library, New York; Tel Aviv Museum, Israel; Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy and Los Angeles County Museum, California.[2] Victor Ganz started collecting art in his teenage years with the purchases of watercolors by Louis Eilshemius and Jules Pascin and an oil painting by Raphael Soyer.

Among Soyer's portrait subjects were artists and writers who were his friends; these included Allen Ginsberg, Arshile Gorky, Chaim Gross and Edward Hopper. In 1967 the Whitney Museum of American Art exhibited a retrospective of his work.[3]

Soyer was hired in 1940, along with eight other prominent American artists, to document dramatic scenes and characters during the production of the film The Long Voyage Home, a cinematic adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's plays.[4]

He died in New York in 1987 from cancer.


In 1953 Soyer co-founded the magazine Reality, published by figurative artists as a response to the prevailing influence of non-objective art.[5] Soyer wrote and illustrated the following books:[6]

  • A Painter's Pilgrimage: An Account of a Journey with Drawings by the Author, Crown, 1962
  • Homage to Thomas Eakins, etc., Thomas Yoseloff, 1966
  • Raphael Soyer, Self-Revealment: a Memoir, Random House, 1969
  • Diary of an Artist, New Republic Books, 1977


  1. ^,The Columbia Encyclopedia (2001-5). Retrieved on 2007-07-11.
  2. ^, Raphael Soyer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art by Samantha Baskind,U. of North Carolina Press. accessed online July 11, 2007
  3. ^ Raphael Soyer papers, 1933-1989, Smithsonian Archives of American Art
  4. ^ "Cover Article, American Artist Magazine, September, 1940, pp. 4-14"
  5. ^ Guide to the Raphael Soyer Papers, 1949-1954 Retrieved July 12, 2007.
  6. ^ Jewish Virtual Library Retrieved July 12, 2007.


  • Raphael Soyer Papers, 1933-1989 - Biographical Information

External links

  • The Raphael Soyer Papers Online, 1933-1989, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
  • Butler Institute of American Art: Soyer
  • Raphael Soyer artwork examples on AskART
  • AskART biography
  • Soyer profile at George Krevsky Gallery
  • Soyer's work in the Hirshhorn Museum
  • Artist Portraits and PaintingsThe Long Voyage Home at The Ned Scott Archive
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