Soyer, Moses

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SOYER, MOSES (1899–1974), U.S. painter. Born into a cultured family, Moses Soyer, his twin brother Raphael *Soyer, and younger brother Isaac Soyer all became well-known artists associated with the Social Realist style of painting. The family was forced out of czarist Russia in 1912, at which time they immigrated to the United States, ultimately settling in the Bronx. Soyer took free art classes at the Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design in the late 1910s; met the Ashcan artist Robert Henri at the Ferrar Art School, whose uncompromising representations of city life greatly influenced him; and studied at the Educational Alliance, where he formed friendships with Peter *Blume and Chaim *Gross. In 1923 Soyer began teaching at the Educational Alliance, where he continued to work intermittently throughout his life.

Soyer spent a year in Europe after winning a travel scholarship from the Educational Alliance (1926). After enjoying his first one-person exhibition at J.B. Neumann's Art Circle Gallery in 1929, Soyer showed his work regularly.

As a Works Progress Administration artist, Soyer painted ten portable murals addressing the life of the child, which were installed at children's hospitals and libraries throughout New York, and jointly designed a mural for the Kingsessing Station post office in Philadelphia with Raphael. During the Great Depression he also painted images of the unemployed and homeless in a representational fashion.

Inspired by the work of Edgar Degas, one of his favorite artists, and his dancer-wife, beginning in the 1940s Soyer made canvases of dancers rehearsing and at rest with a gestural, loose brushstroke. Throughout his life Soyer remained a figurative painter, frequently imaging studio nudes naturalistically. Indeed, Soyer's models are often shown at introspective, even troubled moments, and those who sat for portraits with the painter, notably many of the artist's friends, were never unnecessarily flattered. As Soyer accurately observed: "Most of my paintings reflect an interest in the casual moments in the life of plain people, the gestures and natural attitudes they fall into when they perform habitual tasks, when they are in thought, and when they are not observed by other people." Soyer's work was shown at a posthumous retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1985.


C. Willard, Moses Soyer (1962); A. Werner, Moses Soyer (1970); M. Soyer, Moses Soyer: A Human Approach (1972).

[Samantha Baskind (2nd ed.)]