Moses Soyer (1899-1974)
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Moses Soyer was born in Russia and arrived in New York City with his family in 1912. The twin of Raphael and brother of Isaac, also well-known painters (and remarkably similar in subject and style), Soyer’s talent for drawing was early apparent. He received formal training for several years during WWI. Like many artists of his generation, he was deeply affected by the Depression. He was heavily involved with the WPA and completed a series of murals in 1940 for the WPA.
Many of his portraits of the 1930’s were of unemployed workers. Strongly Social Realist in inclination, Soyer criticized Regionalism, then gaining popularity in the USA. In the war years however he began to specialize in painting nudes and ballerinas, and did so for most of the rest of his life.
These softer subjects notwithstanding, Soyer’s background in drawing is always evident, and echoes of Social Realism reverberate to the end of his career. His portraits are invariably strong, heavily delineated and unsentimental, as indeed are his nudes.
Soyer was not an innovator. He reflects the changing dominant influences of the first half of the 20th century faithfully, shifting from gritty Social Realism through conventional Modernism to the lighter, sketchier touch of the 1950’s. His palette lightens after WWII, as if the black clouds of war and Depression have finally lifted.
Soyer’s great strength is the human figure, sensitively portrayed with masterly draughtsman ship. The later works of Soyer show his continued dedication to drawing, resulting in a kind of academic Modernism. Some of his later work harkens back to the late 19th century. The faces of Soyer’s subjects are invariably Realist in style, and he always made his backgrounds recede. Even when his subject was relatively dark, the background would be darker.
Today, Soyer’s paintings are housed all over the world, and perhaps in your own home. Still wondering about an early 20th century Russian painting in your family estate? Contact us…it could be by Moses Soyer.