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Raphael Soyer papers, 1933-1989

Raphael Soyer papers, 1933-1989

Soyer, Raphael, 1899-1987

Painter, Lithographer

Representative image for Raphael Soyer papers, 1933-1989

The papers of Raphael Soyer in the Archives of American Art were digitized in 2009. The bulk of the papers have been scanned and total 6,074 images.

In 1994, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation provided funding that allowed the collection to be microfilmed. Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection in 2009 was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Collection Information

Size: 3.9 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of realist painter Raphael Soyer date from 1933 to 1989 and measure 3.9 linear feet. Soyer's papers document his career as a painter, printmaker, and writer. Found within the papers are scattered biographical materials, including several transcripts of interviews with Soyer; extensive personal and professional correspondence; writings and notes by Soyer and others; scattered legal and financial records; exhibition materials, clippings and other printed material; and photographs of Soyer in his studio, with artists and friends, and at art events. Also found are one sketch and a facsimile of Soyer's 1968 sketchbook produced by Forum Gallery.

Biographical/Historical Note

Raphael Soyer (1899-1987) was a painter and printmaker in New York, N.Y. Born in Tombov (or Borisoglebsk), Russia, Soyer was one of six siblings, including twin Moses, and brothers Isaac and Israel, who were encouraged in their art work by their father, a teacher of Hebrew literature. Raphael Soyer studied drawing and painting at the Cooper Union, at the National Academy of Design, ca. 1919, and with Guy Pene Du Bois at the Art Students League. His first one-man show was at the Daniel Gallery in 1929. He became noted for his prints and paintings of social realism during the Depression, and taught at the Art Students League, The New School, and at the National Academy of Design.

Provenance

Portions of the collection were donated by Raphael Soyer between 1961 and 1980. Additional materials were donated in 1991 and 1993 by his widow, Rebecca, and his grandson, Joseph Leiber, on behalf of the entire Soyer family.

Related Materials

Also found at the Archives of American Art are several collections related to Raphael Soyer: Esther Reier letter from Raphael Soyer, 1978 May 29; Raphael Soyer's Artist Statement from 1947; a Raphael Soyer lecture from 1960; the papers of his twin brother, Moses Soyer; Brooklyn Museum interviews of artists, circa 1965-1968 (includes an interview of Soyer); and the Karl E. Fortess taped interviews with artists, 1963-1985, which also includes an interview with Raphael Soyer. The Archives of American Art's Oral History collection has an interview of Raphael Soyer dated May 13-June 1, 1981 conducted by Milton Brown.

Additional Raphael Soyer papers, 1949-1954, are available at Cornell University.

Funding

In 1994, the Lucius N. Littauer Foundation provided funding that allowed the collection to be microfilmed. Funding for the processing and digitization of this collection in 2009 was provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Location of Originals

  • Reel N68-1, sketchbooks only: Originals returned to lender, Raphael Soyer, after microfilming.

A Finding Aid to the Raphael Soyer Papers,
1933-1989
, in the Archives of American Art
AAA.soyeraph
Author
Finding aid prepared by Erin Corley
Biographical Note
Raphael Soyer (1899-1987) and his twin brother Moses (1899-1974) 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. Raphael and Moses 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 later Raphael attended the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League where he studied with Guy Pene du Bois. He began to show his paintings in 1926 and in 1929 gallery owner Charles Daniel gave him his first one man show. Soyer became one of the leading realist painters and printmakers, often depicting Depression-era transients, Manhattan streetscapes, shoppers, and women at work. He also painted and sketched numerous self-portraits and portraits of fellow artists and cultural figures, many of whom were also his friends, including Allen Ginsberg, Chaim Gross, Edward Hopper, and Arshile Gorky.
Beginning in the 1930s Soyer showed his work frequently at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Associated American Artists Galleries, National Collection of Fine Arts, and other national and international exhibitions. During the 1940s and 1950s he was a leading advocate of realism and spoke out against the abstract style that was dominating the New York art scene. In 1953 he co-founded
Reality
magazine.
Soyer joined the Forum Gallery in New York in the early 1960s and became good friends with his dealer Bella Fishko. Also during the 1960s he published three books,
A Painter's Pilgrimage
(1962),
Homage to Thomas Eakins
(1966), and
Self-Revealment: a Memoir
(1969), and had his first retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1967.
Throughout his career Soyer also occasionally taught at art schools including the Art Students League and the New School. He also collaborated with his friend, writer Isaac Bashevis Singer, by illustrating several of Singer's books. Soyer and his wife Rebecca, whom he married in 1931, lived the rest of their lives in New York City, but often traveled to Europe. They had one daughter, Mary. Soyer's final book,
Diary of an Artist
, was published in 1977 and in 1979 he received the Gold Medal from the National Arts Club. He continued painting realist subjects until his death in 1987.
Arrangement
The collection is arranged into 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Material, 1939-1986 (Box 1, OV 6; 12 folders)
Series 2: Correspondence, 1940-1988 (Box 1-2; 1.0 linear foot)
Series 3: Writings & Notes, circa 1946-1987 (Box 2-3; 1.5 linear feet)
Series 4: Legal & Financial Records, 1959-1988 (Box 3; 0.2 linear feet)
Series 5: Printed Material, 1933-1989 (Box 3-4; 0.3 linear feet)
Series 6: Photographs, circa 1953-1987 (Box 5, OV 6; 0.5 linear feet)
Series 7: Artwork, 1968, undated (Box 5; 2 folders)
Scope and Content Note
The papers of realist painter Raphael Soyer date from 1933 to 1989 and measure 3.9 linear feet. They document Soyer's career as a painter, printmaker, and writer. Found within the papers are scattered biographical materials, including several transcripts of interviews with Soyer; extensive personal and professional correspondence; writings and notes by Soyer and others; scattered legal and financial records; exhibition materials, clippings and other printed material; and photographs of Soyer in his studio, with artists and friends, and at art events. Also found are one sketch and a facsimile of Soyer's 1968 sketchbook produced by Forum Gallery.
Biographical materials include award certificates, including a 1975 certificate from the National Academy of Design, lists of artwork by Soyer, and several transcripts of interviews with Raphael Soyer in which he discusses topics such as his career as an artist, artists in New York City, and the inspiration for his artwork.
Personal and professional correspondence is with numerous artists, writers, art historians, curators, gallery owners, arts organizations, museums, and universities. Correspondents include Lambro Ahlas, Rudolf Baranik, George Biddle, John Bratby, David Burliuk, Peter De Francia, Lloyd Goodrich, Joseph Hirsch, Joseph Hirshhorn, Edward Hopper, Joe Lasker, Henry Varnum Poor, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and many others. Additional correspondence is addressed to
Reality
magazine, for which Soyer was an editor.
Writings and notes by Soyer include several drafts and notes for his four published books
A Painter's Pilgrimage
(1962),
Homage to Thomas Eakins
(1966),
Self-Revealment: a Memoir
(1969), and
Diary of an Artist
(1977). Also by Soyer are draft essays, lectures, and articles - many about social realism. Writings by others include essays and articles by artists and art scholars sent to Soyer for review.
Scattered legal and financial records include bank statements, receipts, leases, and documents related to the publishing of his books. Printed material consists of exhibition catalogs and announcements, clippings, and other published items.
Photographs depict Soyer in his studio, with other artists and friends such as Chaim Gross, Edward Hopper, and Jose De Creeft, and at art events, and include a few photographs of his artwork. Also found are one pencil sketch and a facsimile of Soyer's 1968 sketchbook produced by Forum Gallery.
Provenance
Portions of the collection were donated by Raphael Soyer between 1961 and 1980. Additional materials were donated in 1991 and 1993 by his widow, Rebecca, and his grandson, Joseph Leiber, on behalf of the entire Soyer family.
Separated Material
Originals of loaned material, including a small amount of correspondence and three sketchbooks, were returned to Raphael Soyer after microfilming in 1968. Loaned material is available on reel N68-1 but is not described in the container listing in this finding aid.
Related Material
Also found at the Archives of American Art are several collections related to Raphael Soyer: Esther Reier letter from Raphael Soyer, 1978 May 29; Raphael Soyer's Artist Statement from 1947; a Raphael Soyer lecture from 1960; the papers of his twin brother, Moses Soyer; Brooklyn Museum interviews of artists, circa 1965-1968 (includes an interview of Soyer); and the Karl E. Fortess taped interviews with artists, 1963-1985, which also includes an interview with Raphael Soyer. The Archives of American Art's Oral History collection has an interview of Raphael Soyer dated May 13-June 1, 1981 conducted by Milton Brown.
Additional Raphael Soyer papers, 1949-1954, are available at Cornell University.
Location of Originals
  • Reel N68-1, sketchbooks only: Originals returned to lender, Raphael Soyer, after microfilming.
Processing Information
The collection was typically microfilmed in the order in which was received on reels N68-1, 867-868, 1927-1928, and 4888-4890. Items on reel N68-1 were first lent for microfilming in 1968 and some of this material was subsequently donated. The Lucius N. Littauer Foundation provided funding for the later microfilming. The entire collection was merged, fully processed, arranged, and described by Erin Corley in 2007, and digitized in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

The bulk of this collection has been digitized and is available online via AAA's website. Materials which have not been scanned include photographs of works of art, select draft writings by Soyer, writings by others on unrelated topics, and certain routine financial documents and printed material. Exhibition catalogs have had their covers and relevant pages scanned.

Loaned material: microfilm reel N68-1 is available at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan.

Restrictions on Access

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Raphael Soyer papers, 1933-1989. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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