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Moses Soyer papers, circa 1905-1974

Biographical Note

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.