Moses Soyer papers, circa 1905-1974

A Finding Aid to the Moses Soyer Papers, circa 1905-1974, in the Archives of American Art, by Erin Corley

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Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Table of Contents:



Biographical Information

Moses Soyer (1899-1974) and his twin brother Raphael (1899-1987) were born on December 25, 1899, in the Russian town Borisoglebsk. Their father Abraham was a scholar and Hebrew teacher who encouraged all of his children to sketch and paint. After the family was deported from Russia, they settled in the Bronx, New York, in 1912. Moses and Raphael briefly attended school, but at 16 they began working various jobs to help support their family. They also began taking free art classes at Cooper Union and for a brief time at the National Academy of Design. Moses then enrolled at the Educational Alliance Art School where he met close friend Chaim Gross. He participated in his first exhibition in 1923 and also taught classes at the Education Alliance Art School until 1926 when he received a traveling scholarship to Europe.

Before leaving for Europe, Soyer married Ida, a former student and dancer. They spent most of their time during the next two years in France. Their son David was born in 1928. Shortly after his birth they returned to the New York City where Moses found greater inspiration for his social-realist paintings. During the Depression, he was commissioned to do artwork for the WPA and for the Federal Arts Project, depicting people doing everyday tasks. During this time Soyer also taught classes at the Contemporary Art School and the New School for Social Research.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s Soyer continued with this subject matter, even as the abstract art movement became more prominent. Speaking out against abstract art as well as regionalism, he exhibited his work constantly, becoming a significant figure in the social realist movement. His work was represented by the American Contemporary Art (ACA) Gallery beginning in 1944, and he was also a member of several art organizations, including the Artists Equity Association. He was elected to the National Academy of Design in 1963 and to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1966. Soyer's later work focused on more sensitive portrayals of the female figure, especially dancers. He also painted portraits, including many of his artist friends such as Chaim Gross, Joseph Stella, and David Burliuk. He illustrated several books, including the First Book of Ballet and wrote Painting the Human Figure, which was published in 1964. Soyer continued to paint until his death in 1974.

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Overview of the Collection

Scope and Contents

The papers of realist painter Moses Soyer date from circa 1905 to 1974 and measure 3.8 linear feet. Within the papers are scattered biographical materials, general correspondence with friends, artists, galleries, art organizations, and others, as well as correspondence with his family, including his son David, writings and notes by Soyer and others, exhibition materials, news clippings, and other printed material, numerous photographs of Soyer, his family, fellow artists, friends and his artwork. Also found are book illustrations and loose sketches by Soyer.

Biographical materials include awards, business documents such as records for the loan of his artwork, passports, his marriage certificate, and other official documents. Soyer's 1966 membership to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and several awards from the National Academy of Design are found here as well. Correspondence is with friends and artists such as Leonard Baskin, Isabel Bishop, Alex Dobkin, Philip Evergood, Chaim Gross, and his brother Raphael Soyer, as well as with students, galleries, art organizations, museums, universities, and others. Also found is correspondence with his son David and his grandchildren that include many letters illustrated by Soyer.

Writings and notes include Soyer's draft writings for his book Painting the Human Figure, autobiographical essays, desk diaries, and miscellaneous writings and notes. There are also writings by Ida and David Soyer, artist Philip Evergood, and others. Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs and announcements, news clippings about Soyer's career and realist painting, and scattered material such as newsletters, programs, and magazines.

The papers contain numerous photographs of Soyer, including photographs of him working in his studio, with models, with family, and with fellow artists such as David Burliuk, Nicolai Cikovsky, Chaim Gross, Raphael Soyer, and many others. Additional photographs are of Soyer's family, fellow artists, friends, events, and his artwork. Among the photographers is Arnold Newman. Original artwork includes book illustrations for First Book of Ballet and loose sketches by Soyer.

Arrangement and Series Description

The collection is arranged into 6 series:

Subjects and Names

This collection is indexed in the online catalog of the Archives of American Art under the following terms:

Subjects:

  • Cikovsky, Nicolai, 1894-
  • Burliuk, David, 1882-1967

Subjects-Topical:

  • Social realism--New York (State)--New York
  • Painting, American
  • Artists' studios--New York (State)--New York--Photographs
  • Painters--New York (State)--New York

Types of Materials:

  • Works of art
  • Sketches
  • Photographs

Names:

  • Baskin, Leonard, 1922-
  • Bishop, Isabel, 1902-
  • Dobkin, Alexander, 1908-
  • Evergood, Philip, 1901-1973
  • Gross, Chaim, 1904-
  • Newman, Arnold, 1918-, photographer
  • Soyer, David, 1923-
  • Soyer, Ida
  • Soyer, Raphael, 1899-1987

Provenance

Portions of this collection were donated by Moses Soyer between 1966 and 1969, including some materials which he previously loaned for microfiliming in 1965. Additional material was donated by his son David Soyer in 1974 and 1975.

Separated and Related Materials

Also found at the Archives of American Art are the Abe Lerner papers concerning the book Moses Soyer, 1961-1970, a Moses Soyer letter to Herbert S. Schimmel, and a Moses Soyer letter and two photographs, donated by Marilyn Mark. Also available at the Archives are the papers of Raphael Soyer, Moses Soyer's twin brother.

How the Collection was Processed

The collection was microfilmed in the order in which it was received on reels D283, D359, and 1198-1203. The entire collection was merged, fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley in 2007 and scanned in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


How to Use the Collection

Restrictions on Use

Use of the original papers requires an appointment.

Ownership & Literary Rights

The Moses Soyer papers are owned by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Literary rights as possessed by the donor have been dedicated to public use for research, study, and scholarship. The collection is subject to all copyright laws.

Available Formats

The bulk of the collection was digitized in 2009 and is available via the Archives of American Art's website. Materials not scanned include some printed materials, such as Hebrew and Russian newsclippings, entire magazines, and printed reproductions of artwork. Photographs of artwork were not scanned, nor photographs of David Soyer's family.

How to Cite this Collection

Moses Soyer papers, circa 1905-1974. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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Detailed Description and Container Inventory

Series 1: Biographical Material, 1925-1974
(Box 1, 5, OV 6; 12 folders)

Biographical materials include three address books, award and membership certificates, including Soyer's 1966 membership to the National Institute of Arts and Letters and several awards from the National Academy of Design, and a few exhibition labels for his artwork. Also found are scattered documents regarding his professional career including publishing contracts and royalty statements for books he wrote or illustrated and records of the sale or loan of his artwork to various galleries, museums, and individuals. Official documents found here include his marriage certificate, passports, naturalization record, and membership cards.

Items are arranged chronologically within each folder. This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
1 1-2 Address Books, circa 1940s-1970s
(2 folders)
1 3 Award and Membership Certificates, 1948-1974
(Oversized items housed in OV 6)
1 4 Marriage Certificate (in Hebrew), 1926
(Oversized; see Box 5, F1)
1 5 Passports, 1928, 1963, 1968
1 6 Exhibition Labels, 1950-1955
1 7 Publishing Contracts and Royalty Statements, 1963-1967
1 8 Records of Sale and Loan of Artwork, 1957-1966
1 9 Rail Tickets, 1947, 1965
1 10 Financial Documents, 1958-1974
1 11 Ida Soyer Biographical Material, 1938-1959
1 12 Miscellaneous Biographical Material, 1925-1974
Box
OV 6 Oversize Award and Membership Certificates, 1948-1974
(Scanned with Box 1, F3)
Box Folder
5 (sol) 1 Oversize Marriage Certificate (in Hebrew), 1926
(Scanned with Box 1, F4)

Series 2: Correspondence, 1928-1974
(Box 1-2, 5; 1.0 linear foot)

Moses Soyer's correspondence spans over forty years, with the bulk of it dating between 1962 and 1974. General correspondence is comprised primarily of incoming letters, with a few drafts of outgoing letters scattered within. Soyer was friends with many artists and cultural figures, and correspondents include artists Leonard Baskin, Isabel Bishop, Alex Dobkin, Philip Evergood, Chaim Gross, Frank Kleinholz, Benjamin Kopman, Ben Shahn, and his brother Raphael Soyer; writer Will Durant, poet Millen Brand, and dancer Helen Tamiris. Also of note is a holiday card made by artist Marguerite Zorach. There is correspondence with the American Contemporary Art (ACA) Gallery which represented his work, and with many galleries, museums, and schools which exhibited or purchased his work. There is also correspondence with students and publishers, patrons who purchased his work, curators, and arts organizations, as well as Clifford Evans who made a film about Soyer, and his friend Abe Lerner who worked on the book Moses Soyer, published in 1970. Some letters are in Hebrew and Russian.

Family correspondence includes Ida and Moses Soyer's correspondence with their son David while he was away at camp, in college, and as an adult. Included are several illustrated letters. Also found is correspondence between Moses Soyer and his grandchildren Daniel and Nancy, also including many letters illustrated by Moses. Condolence letters are also found.

Family correspondence is filed before general personal correspondence, and condolence letters appear last. This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
1 13-16 Correspondence with David Soyer, 1933-1940, 1947-1973
(4 folders)
1 17 Correspondence with Grandchildren (Daniel and Nancy Soyer), circa 1960-1973
(Oversized items are housed in Box 5, F2)
1 18-28 General Correspondence, 1928-1974
(11 folders)
1 29-31 Undated Correspondence, A-Z, circa 1930-1974
(3 folders)
1 32 Unidentified Correspondence, circa 1930-1974
1 33-41 Condolence Letters to David Soyer, A-Z, 1974
(9 folders)
1 42 Condolence Letters to David Soyer, Unidentified Letters and Envelopes, 1974
1 43 Condolence Letters to Raphael Soyer, A-D, 1974
Box Folder
2 1-2 Condolence Letters to Raphael Soyer, E-Z, 1974
(2 folders)
2 3 Condolence Letters sent to Others, 1974
Box Folder
5 (sol) 2 Oversize Correspondence with Grandchildren (Daniel and Nancy Soyer), circa 1960-1973
(Scanned with Box 1, F17)

Series 3: Writings & Notes, circa 1930s-1968, undated
(Box 2; 0.6 linear feet)

Writings by Soyer include two drafts of an autobiographical essay, "Three Brothers" (titled "This is Our Story" in the second draft), and typed and handwritten draft writings of Soyer's book Painting the Human Figure, which was published in 1964. Also found are several of Soyer's desk diaries and other miscellaneous writings, including poetry Soyer translated into English, drafts of speeches, brief essays on art, and various notes. Writings by others include scattered writings by Ida Soyer about daily events, an essay by David Soyer, "Studio", about his father's studio, and essays about Moses Soyer by friend and artist Philip Evergood and art critic Charlotte Willard. Also found is a handmade book by Noemi and Norberto (last names unknown), a notepad possibly belonging to Soyer, and writings in other languages including Hebrew and Russian.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
2 4 Moses Soyer, "Three Brothers" or "This is Our Story", circa 1940
2 5-7 Moses Soyer, Draft Writings for Book Painting the Human Figure, early 1960s
(3 folders)
2 8-14 Moses Soyer, Desk Diaries, 1950, 1958-1968
(7 folders)
2 15 Moses Soyer, Miscellaneous Writings, circa 1940s-1960s
2 16 Moses Soyer, Notes, circa 1940s-1960s
2 17 Ida Soyer, Miscellaneous Writings, circa 1940s-1960s
2 18 David Soyer, Miscellaneous Writings, circa 1960s
2 19 Philip Evergood, Essay about Moses Soyer, 1962
2 20 Noemi & Norberto, Homemade Book, 1962
2 21 Charlotte Willard, "Moses Soyer, circa 1960s
2 22 Notepad, circa 1930s
2 23 Documents written in foreign languages, 1941, undated

Series 4: Printed Material, 1926-1974
(Box 2-3, 5, OV 6; 0.8 linear feet)

Printed material consists of catalogs and announcements for exhibitions of Moses Soyer's artwork and the artwork of others. Some of these catalogs are annotated. Also found are numerous news clippings about Soyer, his exhibitions, and about realist painters. Included are a few articles written by Soyer and clippings of cartoons and illustrations by Soyer published in newspapers and magazines. There is a scrapbook of clippings. Other scattered items include newsletters and programs, holiday cards designed by Soyer, and reproductions of his artwork. The New Handbook of Heaven includes a note on the inside cover by its author Diane Di Prima who had modeled for Soyer. Also found are a few items of Ida Soyer's dance publicity, including announcements, programs, and new clippings for dance recitals.

Items are arranged chronologically within each folder. The bulk of the printed materials have been scanned, except for clippings in Hebrew and Russian, Ida Soyer's dance publicity materials, entire magazines, and printed reproductions of artwork.

Box Folder
2 24 Exhibition Announcements & Catalogs, 1933, 1945-1973
2 25 Exhibition Announcements & Catalogs, Undated, circa 1930s-1970s
2 26 Announcements & Invitations (not art related), 1960s
2 27-31 Clippings, 1935-1973
(5 folders; Oversized items are housed in Box 5, F3)
2 32 Undated Clippings, circa 1935-1974
2 33 Clippings in Russian and Hebrew, 1938-1965
(Not scanned)
2 34 Scrapbook of Newspaper Clippings, 1930s-1945
2 35 Clippings of Cartoons by Moses Soyer, circa 1920s
Box Folder
3 1 Ida Soyer Dance Publicity, circa 1930-1943
(Oversized items are housed in OV 6; not scanned)
3 2 The New Handbook of Heaven (with note to Soyer from author Diane Di Prima), 1963
3 3 The Treatment of Reading Disabilities, circa 1962
3 4-5 Magazines, 1935-1966
(2 folders; partially scanned)
3 6 Newsletters and Annual Publications, 1945-1973
(Partially scanned)
3 7 Programs, 1926, 1966
3 8 Cards Designed by Moses Soyer, circa 1930s-1974
(Not scanned)
3 9 Reproductions of Artwork by Moses Soyer, 1930s-1960s
(Not scanned)
3 10 Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1945-1960s
(Oversized items are housed in OV 6; not scanned)
Box Folder
5 (sol) 3 Oversize Clippings, 1935-1973
(Scanned with Box 2, F27-31)
Box
OV 6 Oversize Ida Soyer Dance Publicity, circa 1930-1943
(From Box 3, F1; not scanned)
OV 6 Oversize Miscellaneous Printed Material, 1945-1960s
(From Box 3, F10; not scanned)

Series 5: Photographs, circa 1905-1974
(Box 3-5, OV 6; 1.1 linear foot)

Photographs date primarily from the 1930s to 1974. Included are numerous portraits of Soyer, photographs of him painting and drawing in his studio and of him with models and sitters having their portraits painted. Family photographs are of Soyer with his wife Ida and son David and of him and his wife with friends and family. There are photographs of a party in honor of Soyer at the home of artist Chaim Gross.

There are a few photographs of Soyer with his students and several photographs of Soyer with other artists, including Peter Blume, Alexander Brook, David Burliuk, Frederico Castellon, Nicolai Cikovsky, George Constant, Alex Dobkin, Philip Evergood, Joseph Floch, Arthur Getz, Red Grooms, Chaim Gross, Jack Levine, Arnold Newman, John James Penney, Louis Ribak, Harry Shoulberg, Joseph Stella, Raphael Soyer, Sol Wilson, and Nat Werner. Many photographs in this collection were taken by Arnold Newman.

Photographs of exhibitions and gallery receptions are at the ACA gallery and other unidentified places. Also found are a few photographs of Soyer's artwork and artwork by others.

Items are arranged chronologically within each folder. The bulk of this series has been scanned, except for photographs of artwork and of David Soyer's family.

Box Folder
3 11-16 Photographs of Moses Soyer, circa 1930-1974
(6 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F4-5)
3 17-19 Photographs of Moses Soyer in His Studio, 1930s-1974
(3 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F6)
(Includes a photograph of Moses in his studio with his brothers Isaac and Raphael, wife Ida, and students.)
3 20 Photographs of Moses Soyer in His Studio, Contact Sheets, 1950s-1960s
3 21-24 Photographs of Moses Soyer in His Studio with Models, 1938-1974
(4 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F7)
3 25 Photographs of Moses and Ida Soyer, 1926-circa 1970
(Oversized items housed in Box 5, F8)
3 26 Photographs of Moses, Ida, and David Soyer, 1928-circa 1948
3 27 Photographs of Moses and David Soyer, 1928-1948
3 28 Photographs of Moses Soyer and Raphael Soyer, circa 1920s-1970
(Oversized items housed in Box 5, F9)
3 29-33 Photographs of Moses and Ida Soyer with Friends and Family, circa 1905-1974
(5 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F10)
3 34 Photographs of Moses Soyer with Students, circa 1940s-1950s
3 35-36 Photographs of Moses Soyer with Other Artists, circa 1925-1970
(2 folders)
3 37-39 Photographs of Ida Soyer, circa 1926-1970
(3 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F11)
3 40 Photographs of Ida Soyer Dancing, circa 1930-1940
3 41 Photographs of Ida and David Soyer, 1928-circa 1945
3 42-45 Photographs of David Soyer, 1928-1974
(4 folders; oversized items housed in Box 5, F12)
3 46-50 Photographs of David Soyer, His Wife, and Children, circa 1954-1974
(5 folders; not scanned)
3 51 Photographs of Soyer Family at Hampton Bay, Long Island, 1957
3 52 Photographs of Moses and Ida Soyer on Vacation, 1960s
3 53 Photographs of Raphael Soyer, circa 1940s
Box Folder
4 (hol) 1 Photographs of Family Members, circa 1920s-1964
4 (hol) 2 Photographs of Party in Honor of Moses Soyer at Home of Chaim Gross (Photographs by Arnold Neuman), circa 1962
4 (hol) 3 Photographs of Artists, 1941-1970
(Oversized items housed in OV 6)
(Artists include David Burliuk, Nicolai Cikovsky, Chaim Gross, Joseph Stella, Alfred Valente, and John Sloan.)
4 (hol) 4 Photographs of Models, circa 1930s-1960s
(Oversized items housed in Box 5, F13)
4 (hol) 5 Photographs of Others, circa 1928-1965
4 (hol) 6 Photographs of Exhibition at ACA Gallery, 1970
4 (hol) 7 Photographs of Exhibitions, 1943-1968, circa 1970
(Oversized items housed in Box 5, F14)
4 (hol) 8 Photographs of the Moses and Ida Soyer Collection, Montclair Museum, 1971
4 (hol) 9 Photographs of Artwork by Soyer, circa 1929-1974
(Not scanned)
4 (hol) 10 Photographs of Artwork by Others, circa 1940s-1960s
(Not scanned)
4 (hol) 11 Miscellaneous Photographs, circa 1930s-1950s
Box Folder
5 (sol) 4-5 Oversize Photographs of Moses Soyer, circa 1930-1974
(Scanned with Box 3, F11-16)
5 (sol) 6 Oversize Photographs of Moses Soyer in His Studio, 1930s-1974
(Scanned with Box 3, F17-19)
5 (sol) 7 Oversize Photographs of Moses Soyer in His Studio with Models, 1938-1974
(Scanned with Box 3, F21-24)
5 (sol) 8 Oversize Photographs of Moses and Ida Soyer, 1926-circa 1970
(Scanned with Box 3, F25)
5 (sol) 9 Oversize Photographs of Moses Soyer and Raphael Soyer, circa 1920s-1970
(Scanned with Box 3, F28)
5 (sol) 10 Oversize Photographs of Moses and Ida Soyer with Friends and Family, circa 1905-1974
(Scanned with Box 3, F29-33)
5 (sol) 11 Oversize Photographs of Ida Soyer, circa 1926-1970
(Scanned with Box 3, F37-39)
5 (sol) 12 Oversize Photographs of David Soyer, 1928-1974
(Scanned with Box 3, F42-45)
5 (sol) 13 Oversize Photographs of Models, circa 1930s-1960s
(Scanned with Box 4, F4)
5 (sol) 14 Oversize Photographs of Exhibitions, 1943-1968, circa 1970
(Scanned with Box 4, F7)
Box
OV 6 Oversize Photographs of Artists, circa 1944-1970
(Scanned with Box 4, F3)

Series 6: Artwork, circa 1940s-1960s
(Box 4-5; 0.2 linear feet)

Artwork includes numerous pencil and ink sketches by Moses Soyer. Most of the sketches are of human figures and faces and many are sketched on reused pieces of paper, such as brochures, programs, or blank postcards. Also found is a complete set of illustrations by Soyer for the First Book of Ballet, written by Noel Streatfeild, and published in 1953. Additional artwork includes a valentine Soyer made for his wife, Ida, a drawing by his granddaughter, Nancy, and a pencil drawing by one of Soyer's students, Ray Sherwin, of Soyer in his studio.

This series has been scanned in its entirety.

Box Folder
4 (hol) 12-17 Sketches by Moses Soyer, circa 1940s-1960s
(6 folders)
4 (hol) 18 Illustrations for First Book of Ballet, circa 1953
(Oversized, housed in Box 5, F15)
4 (hol) 19 Homemade Valentine, 1954
4 (hol) 20 Drawing by Nancy Soyer, circa 1960s
4 (hol) 21 Drawing by Ray Sherwin, circa 1940s
Box Folder
5 (sol) 15 Oversize Illustrations for First Book of Ballet, circa 1953
(Scanned with Box 4, F18)