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Raphael Soyer (American 1899-1987)

Updated: Oct 25, 2022

In the Studio, c. 1943, oil on canvas 14 x 10 inches, signed lower right, titled verso on stretcher; partial label verso has title and price ($500); notes in pencil verso read: “This painting I acquired from R. Soyer in 1943 having exchanged [illegible] for painting by [illegible]. [illegible] acquired it from me on 12/18/44 Julia [illegible]


About the Painting

In the Studio combines two of Raphael Soyer’s most prominent themes – self portraiture and the female model. Soyer’s studios paintings are quiet, intimate, and authentic. There is nothing idealized, stylized, or genericized about his models. These are real people, many of whom were Soyer’s friends. This familiarity fosters a sense of ease. Soyer captures the moment when the model prepares to dress or is finishing undressing, with her arms partially through her slip and the balance of her clothes hanging disheveled in the background. Soyer is at his best when he captures these casual, informal moments. As in paintings like My Friends (1948), David and Marussia Burliuk (1943), Figures and Screen (c. 1952), and The Screen (1957), Soyer uses the three-paneled screen as a device to frame, and in this case, separate the figures in the composition. Not unlike Hopper, Soyer’s figures are often solemnly isolated from one another with faces forward, or as in this painting, backs turned and bodies physically removed. Soyer was a shy person, so it is not surprising that his figures convey a feeling of loneliness, which is strangely heightened by the fact he lived and worked in America’s most populous city. As many New Yorkers know, there is no loneliness like the loneliness of being of being surrounded by millions. In addition to being one of New York’s most famous painters of the 1930s and 40s, Soyer was also a prolific printmaker, sometimes copying or reworking oil paintings into lithographs or etchings. In 1944, Soyer used In the Studio as source material for a lithograph of the same name and another oil painting, My Studio. The lithograph was published by Associated American Artists (AAA), a gallery with the goal of making high quality art available to collectors across the country for the low price of $5.00 per print. Given the hope of appealing to a mass audience, AAA’s prints were often family friendly and PG-13 at most. When creating the lithographic version of In the Studio, Soyer clothed the model and portrayed her as more conventionally attractive. Were these commercially motived compromises or was Soyer simply trying to capture another snapshot from his studio?

About the Artist

Raphael Soyer wrote, “My art is representational by choice. In my opinion, if the art of painting is to survive, it must describe and express people, their lives and times. It must communicate . . . I consider myself a modern artist, or rather an artist of today . . . because I am influenced by the thoughts, the life and the aesthetics of our time.” Born in a small and dreary Russian town, Raphael Soyer and his twin brother Moses fled with their four siblings, mother, and father to the United States in 1912. Like many Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s, they settled in New York, a city which would strongly define the Soyer brothers’ paintings. Soyer studied at the big three New York art schools of the day, Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League. By the early 1930s, Soyer’s career advanced to the point that six of his works were acquired by Juliana Force for the Whitney Club/Museum and he had a solo show at the Daniel Gallery, the most active dealer supporting modern American art. Soyer was one of the most prominent American artists of the 1930s and 40s. His work was routinely included in juried exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Carnegie Institute, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the National Academy of Design and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He worked for the Graphic Arts Division of the WPA and completed two murals for public works projects. During his long career, Soyer won over two dozen awards and he had solo exhibitions at many of New York’s most respected galleries and museums. His works are in the permanent collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and dozens of other institutions. He is listed in Who was Who in American Art and all other standard references.


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