Ralphael Soyer was an urban realist painter who created oil paintings, water colors, and lithographs, often of New York City street scenes. He also painted portraits and illustrated books.
Ralphael was born on December 25, 1899, in Russia and he came to America with his family in 1912. They needed to flee Russia because their father’s residence permit was not renewed. His father, Abraham Soyer, came from Lithuania and made a living teaching Hebrew and writing in Hebrew and Russian for newspapers in Odessa. The family name is an adaptation of the Hebrew Schoar, which means sentinel.
The family resided in The Bronx when they first came to New York. Ralphael did not enter the school system in New York until 1915, and he left after one year to take a factory job to help support his family. Ralphael was part of an artistic family. His brothers, Moses Soyer and Isaac Soyer are also well known artists. Moses Soyer, A 1917, is Ralphael’s twin. Both Ralphael and his brother Moses attended The Cooper Union at night and worked in their factory jobs during the day. Later, their younger brother Isaac also attended The Cooper Union.
Ralphael Soyer’s first solo exhibition was held at the Daniel Gallery in 1929. During the 1930s and 1940s he painted dressmakers, seamstresses, and many scenes of dancing classes.
During the 1930s Raphael participated in large annual exhibitions mounted by the Whitney Museum of American Art, and other major American museums. He worked in the graphics division of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project, and in 1939 collaborated with his brother Moses on two murals for the post office in Kinsessing, Pennsylvania. One of the murals is titled, “Philadelphia Waterways with Ben Franklin Bridge” and the other is titled, “View of Downtown Philadelphia Skyline”
In 1940, Ralph won the Norman Wait Harris bronze medal at the 51st annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture at the Chicago Art Institute. Link to story. Also in 1940, he demonstrated his drawing and painting skills in the Chicago World’s fair in a demonstration of art called “World’s largest Art Class” sponsored by the Art Students League. Link to story
One of his most memorable works is one he painted in 1959 called, “Farewell to Lincoln Square” The old Lincoln Arcade building, in which he and other artists had had their studios, was torn down to make way for Lincoln Center. This painting resides in Washington DC, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Link to painting
In 1965, Ralphael completed a well know piece titled, Homage to Thomas Eakins. Link to painting
In 1962, Raphael published a book titled, “A Painter’s Pilgrimage,” which is illustrated with his drawings of details from Old Master paintings and sympathetic pencil sketches of European artists. He made these sketches when he and his wife traveled to Europe.
He married Rebecca Lutz in 1931 and they had one daughter, Mary. Like his father, Ralphael was a writer. He authored, Painter’s Pilgrimage (1962), Homage to Thomas Eakins (1966), Self-Revealment: A Memoir (1969) and Diary of an Artist (1977).
Milton Brown conducted an oral history interview with Raphael Soyer on May 13-1981 for the Archives of American Art. Transcript of Interview
during that interview, Raphael said this about his time at Cooper:
Well, we went to Cooper Union when we were about sixteen years old, Moses and I. We went at night. We worked during the day. We had the kind of typical jobs of those days. They were, in other words, selling newspapers, and being messenger boys, and so on. But at night we went to Cooper Union, and there we felt more at ease than in high school or public school and so on, because we were with our peers, and they were older than we, but we felt equal to them because we drew as well as they did.
A large Soyer retrospective was held at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., in 1982.
He died in New York City on Nov. 4, 1987
In 2016, The Louisiana Art and Science Museum has a retrospective showing of Soyer’s portraits. “Raphael Soyer: Intimate Portraits” which opned in January and continues until 4/3/2016. Learn More
Ralphael Soyer was an associate of the National Academy of Design. In 1958 he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Ralphael Soyer received the Cooper Union Presidential Citation in 1956. He received the Augustus Saint-Gauden’s Award in 1968. He was inducted into the Cooper Union Hall of Fame in 2009.
Video commemorating Ralphael Soyer’s Work: Link
- Biography Reference Bank, EBSCO Information Resources, On-line, https://www.ebscohost.com/us-high-schools/biography-reference-bank
- Pennsylvania New Deal Art, Link
- Biography on RoGallery.com, Link
- Review in the New York Times, I Wish I Had More Eyes, November 6, 1977. Link
- Oral History Interview with Raphael Soyer, 1981 May 13-June 1, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. link