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Full text of "Moses Soyer"

MOSES SOYER 



T 



by Bernard Smith 



AN A.C.A. GALLERY PUBLICATION 

63 East 57tk Street, New York 



Copyright 1944 
by A. C. A. Gallery 




The New Costume. 1939. Collection Mr. & Mrs. Saul Rosen. 



A 



FEW YEARS AGO, writing of himself and his brothers, Moses Soyer said: 
"Our message is People. . . . The people we paint are the plain people we 
live and mingle with, people we know and understand best: members of our 
families, fellow artists, students, dancers, shopgirls, workers employed and 
unemployed. We try to paint them understandingly in their own surround- 
ings, and in natural attitudes. We like especially to paint young people, boys 



[3] 



and girls just past the stage of adolescence who face the world bravely and 
idealistically and are eager to accomplish great things." 

More recently, writing now only of himself, he remarked: "Most of my 
painting reflects 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/' 

In those two very simple, unpretentious statements of his artistic credo, 
Moses Soyer has described the whole body of his work to date. It is hazard- 
ous to predict an artist's future, yet it seems most unlikely that his develop- 
ment will in any way contradict cither what he has painted in the past or 
what he has written about his painting. He has searched and has found 
himself; he is mature and the process has been an inevitable growth from 
the shy, almost timid, certainly reticent canvases of fifteen years ago. If 
today there are signs of a new mood and a new interest, they indicate an 
expansion, a broadening, rather than a significant departure. His primary 
concern will always be people, and always the "plain people" the people 
he knows and understands best. We can only expect that as his personal 
experience enlarges and his craft becomes even surer than it now is, his 
vision will be correspondingly enlarged and his expression of it bolder. We 
cannot expect that it will change. Fie has been and will continue to be a 
humane realist. 

He is thus in the main stream of American painting. The history of non- 
academic art in this country is perhaps too short to contain within it a 
"tradition," yet if we have anything worthy of so impressive a label, it is 
precisely the realistic treatment of everyday life, everyday people, caught 
in their natural moments, viewed sympathetically and depicted sincerely. 
In that "tradition" we have had painters as diverse in character and as 
different in talent as Eakins, Homer, John Sloan, George Luks, Robert 
Henri, "Pop" Hart, George Bellows, and Boardman Robinson. We have 
had other kinds of painters, too painters with very great gifts and unique 
visions who cannot be fitted into our "tradition." But the emphasis, in their 
cases, should be upon the word "unique." Not only are they outside the 
main stream; they cannot easily be grouped together. Their antecedents 
and correspondences are apt to be European, and their methods and con- 
ceptions are generally personal in a sense in which those of the painters in 
our "tradition" are not. 



[4] 



fteferenca 



To put it briefly, Paris has barely influenced Soyer, just as it barely influ- 
enced the older American realists. All modern American painting has been 
profoundly affected by the French school in the important respect that the 
creative energy of our artists was relieved of the dead weight of the academy 
by the winds that blew out of France. Nor can it be denied that all our con- 
temporary artists have learned from the experiments of the great Frenchmen 
(and the Spaniards and Jews who made Paris their home). But it is none the 
less true that those influences and teachings have been largely indirect so far 
as our realistic "tradition" is concerned. In Soyer's case, not even a long 
sojourn in Paris itself could materially alter either his interests or his methods. 
His intense admiration for the recent French masters, his close study of all 
modern European painting, has not been reflected at least not in any obvious 
way in his own work. If we are to find French models for Soyer's canvases 
they are to be found in Daumicr and Degas rather than their successors in 
the modern French realists rather than the experimentalists, expressionists or 
surrealists. In sum, like the older Americans whom I have mentioned, Soyer s 
object is above all to reveal people in the act of living. Hence his method is 
conditioned by that object. I lis ceaseless toil to improve, strengthen, and 
make surer his craft is an effort to make clearer and deeper the revelation, not 
an effort to make the craft itself the object. The latter task the task of visual 
adventure and formal experiment a task that is wholly necessary in art, and 
which must constantly be undertaken if art is to have vitality and renewal he 
leaves almost entirely to others. There is no question here of conflict, nor of a 
hierarchy of values. Soyer has simply chosen to do what he is interested most 
in doing and what he knows he is capable of doing. There are many mansions 
in art, and room in all of them for many kinds of artists if only they be artists. 

His preoccupations and his sentiments seem natural to a man of his back- 
ground. I do not mean that one can invariably deduce an artist's point of view 
from the facts of his life. Indeed, the biographical analysis of art is apt to be a 
series of pitfalls for the ingenuous. Soyer's racial and social origins can be 
summed up in the phrase: impoverished Russian Jewish. But so can the 
origins of three of the most celebrated painters of our day, Soutine, Weber, 
and Chagall and it would be difficult to imagine more dissimilar works than 
the powerful and moving expressionism of Soutine, the early cubism of 
Weber, and the fantastic surrealism of Chagall, with its curious mixture of 
bitterness and pathos. It is reasonable to compare the artistic expressions of 
these men in relation to their virtually identical social backgrounds and it is 



clear that Soyer's intentions as well as the character of his expression are com- 
pletely different from those of his renowned compatriots. The same point 
can be made through a comparison closer home to several of his contem- 
poraries in New York who also come of poor Russian Jewish homes and 
whose canvases are also significantly unlike his. 

I am not referring to style, the most personal and individual aspect of any 
artist's work, in any art, and of which the psychological source usually eludes 
explanation. I am referring to what an artist tries to express, what he is inter- 
ested in, and to the intellectual-emotional complex behind the intention. 
Rarely are we sufficiently informed about an artist's life to enable us to deter- 
mine why he thinks and feels as he does and why he undertakes to create the 
things he does create, and even when we do have the facts our conclusions 
are often ex post facto and incapable of rigorous proof. Reactions to private 
experience and public events are only roughly predictable; and that there arc 
contradictory reactions is one of the platitudes of criticism. That is not to 
say, however, that the critic exists in a world which lacks causality a world 
of chance and illogic. Although not dogmatically, and with rather coarse 
definition, we can perceive an approximate relationship between an artist's 
life and his work, his outlook and his times, his methods and those of his 
predecessors and models. We are therefore justified, for example, in assunv 
ing some connection between a life which has constantly been in contact 
with poverty and social struggle and an art which reveals a sensitiveness to 
the pains and hopes of human beings in the immediate environment. 

Soyer was born in 1899 in the town of Borisoglebsk, Russia. He says of 
his birthplace, "Maxim Gorky mentions it in one of his books . . . [and] 
describes it as a poverty-stricken, muddy, mean, hopeless town, typical of so 
many towns that were strewn all over the face of Old Russia." He was one 
of twins, his brother being Raphael Soyer. The father was a teacher of 
Hebrew history and language, a scholar and an author, but more than that a 
lover of art. It was he who fostered in his sons, including a younger one, Isaac, 
the desire to become artists, would often draw for them, and at last became 
their first and most patient model. The mother was described by Moses as 
"quiet and reserved, by nature rather melancholy and brooding," and also 
with a flair for the artistic. "We used to love to watch her embroider on towels 
and tablespreads illustrations of Russian fairy tales in vivid, bright color 
schemes." 

Their life in that town could not have been very joyous. As Jews they 



[6] 



had to suffer degrading restrictions, insults, persecution. In addition, few 
opportunities for earning a livelihood were available to a Jew in the Russia 
of the Czars. The Soyers were always poor. "There were times/' Moses 
recalls, "when there was not enough food in the house and no money for 
rent, and I remember days when we stayed home from school for lack of 
enough clothing. We were often ill/' He recalls some brighter moments, 
too, however. There was an unforgettable trip to Moscow, when they visited 
the Tretiakoff Gallery of Art and the boys were awestruck by the violent 
canvases of the Russian historical painters. There was a sympathetic drawing 
teacher at school who encouraged and helped the boys. And above all there 
were the students and the young restless workers of the town who would 
gather in the Soyer house, because of their affection and respect lor the father 
of the home, and there they would talk, argue, and sing their songs that were 
full of yearning and sadness but tinged with implied revolt. The students 
would help Moses and Raphael with their studies and coach them in foreign 
languages, so that the boys learned some French and Cierman no mean 
accomplishment for lower-class Jews in Old Russia. 

These gatherings at the Soyers' were finally the cause of the family's 
undoing. I he Czar's police knew very 7 well that any gathering of youth, and 
particularly of students, was an occasion for airing liberal ideas. They were 
therefore frowned upon and often forbidden. In Borisoglebsk the remedy 
was obvious, since the center of "disturbance' was a Jew. In the fall of 1912 
Mr. Soyer received an order from the governor of the province permanently 
banishing him from Russia. A few weeks later the family set out for the 
United States. 

They landed in Philadelphia and the boys were promptly sent to school. 
In a short time, however, the family moved on to New 7 York and settled in a 
poor neighborhood in the Bronx, where again the process of schooling and 
Americanization began. The twins completed grammar school in two years 
and went on to high school. Moses Soyer recalls that "we were good in 
English composition and history, but we failed regularly in drawing! Only 
in the badly lighted and ill-ventilated back room in our apartment, which our 
mother allotted to us, were we happy. Here we three brothers did our lessons, 
posed nude for one another, painted and drew our parents and sisters, and 
the children of our neighbors/' 

Moses and Raphael worked in the mornings selling newspapers, often 
in the evenings as "soda jerkers/' but the family's poverty was unrelieved 



thereby. The twins decided, when they were in their fourth year at high 
school, to go to work. But at the same time they were determined to take up 
art in earnest, and accordingly they enrolled in the National Academy of 
Design and began to devote all their free time to painting and drawing. At 
the Academy they were taught that John Singer Sargent was the world's 
greatest artist. They were taught nothing whatever about Eakins and Ryder. 
No one mentioned Bellows, Sloan, and Henri. Everything that the word 
"academy" represents in art formed the oppressive atmosphere in which 
whatever unconventionality, boldness, and enthusiasm the boys had were 
systematically discouraged and suppressed, so that they began soon to lose 
their identities as artists. 

A friend brought Moses to the Ferrer Art School one day. It was a radical 
club in an old building situated in the Spanish section of Harlem. For a small 
fee the students could draw from a model and were entitled to submit their 
work for criticism to Henri and Bellows, who came to the school on alternate 
Sundays. Moses made a drawing and hung it on the wall alongside the 
others. Henri was the instructor-critic that day. "What a warm, magnetic, 
generous personality was his! Gaunt, lined, sad-eyed, Henri made me think/' 
writes Moses, "of Abraham Lincoln. He was a marvelous talker. He spoke 
slowly and deliberately in a low voice, interspersing his talk with homely 
anecdotes of his art-school days in Paris. . . . He took it (my drawing) apart 
mercilessly yet kindly, pointing out its superficiality, its lack of character, its 
empty cleverness. He used terms such as 'significant form/ Volume/ and 
'space relationship' that were foreign to me, and mentioned names I had never 
heard/' There, too, Moses encountered for the first time a copy of one of 
the most famous American radical magazines, the old Liberator, in which he 
found a drawing by Daumier (which he has not forgotten to this day) and 
work by Sloan, Luks, Glackens and other new artists who were fighting the 
academy all the academies in all spheres of thought as well as by such 
cartoonists as Boardman Robinson, Art Young, and William Cropper. 

That day finished the National Academy of Design as far as the Soyers 
were concerned. They had already made up their minds to study in different 
art schools anyway, in order to overcome the similarities in their work. 
Raphael began to plan to study at the Art Students League. The young 
brother, Isaac, who was a senior in high school, registered at the Cooper 
Union Art School. Moses transferred to the Educational Alliance Art School. 
The three brothers were finally separated artistically, that is and they were 



[8] 



henceforth to go their own ways and develop distinctly individual charac- 
teristics. They would never lose certain traits in common. Always, and es- 
pecially in the case of Raphael and Moses, there would be an obvious though 
superficial resemblance in style. But if the admitted similarity of subject 
material and the shared general point of view are ignored, no critic can fail 
to perceive vital differences in their work. When Raphael and Moses jointly 
painted two mural panels for a Philadelphia post office, during the mid- 
1930*5, under a commission from the Section of Fine Arts of the United 
States Treasury, they discovered that in the years since their Academy days 
they had acquired painting habits, choices of palettes, and methods of ap- 
proach that could not have been more different if they had been strangers. 
Today the perceptive critic cannot talk of Moses and Raphael Soyer as a 
pair. Each is a painter in his own right, with distinct qualities and with sen- 
sibilities of his own to validate. If one has the truer line, the other has the 
truer sense of mass. If one has a more delicate touch, the other is stronger, 
more vigorous. 

The Educational Alliance is a settlement house on East Broadway, in 
the heart of the East Side slum. Its art school, tenanted principally by immi- 
grants and the children of immigrants, was run on the most progressive lines 
conceivable: it encouraged complete freedom of thought and expression, per- 
mitted unrestricted experimentation. The models were the pople of the 
neighborhood a grey-bearded Jewish patriarch, a jolly Italian woman, a 
Gypsy, a Negro, anyone who might be met walking on East Broadway. 
Soyer found it a relief and an inspiration to paint from such models after 
years of the unvarying nude posed against a colorless wall. After several years 
of study and work there, Soyer was appointed instructor in one of the life 
classes. He adopted Robert Henri's teaching methods, and his class soon be- 
came the most popular in the school. At last, in 1 926, he was awarded a fellow- 
ship to travel in Europe. He promptly married a girl who was one of his 
students and at the same time a student of the modern dance at the Neighbor- 
hood Playhouse, and two weeks later they were on their way to Paris. 

He admits now that he was too immature to benefit much from the fel- 
lowship. He could only gather impressions to be sorted and evaluated in 
the future. Among them was a feeling that beneath the gaiety and the exCit- 
ing artistic activity of Paris there were the beginnings of decadence. The 
honest and original work was still being done by the older men Matisse, 
Picasso, Rouault, Sou tine, Derain. The younger French artists were mere 



copyists and snobs. The American colony seemed to him to be isolated from 
both American and French cultures. Hence he barely participated in the art 
life of the city. They spent much time among the peasants of Provence and 
more time traveling elsewhere on the continent, especially Holland. In 1928 
their funds began to run out. They returned to the United States on the 
eve of the depression. 

After Paris, American art seemed to Soyer to be "full of vigor and strength, 
and alive in content." He threw himself eagerly into the art world of New 
York, but the struggle to sustain himself and gain recognition soon proved to 
be bitter and difficult. With the coming of the depression the always pre- 
carious existence of the younger painters became almost impossible. They 
were rescued only by the providence of government action. First came the 
Treasury Department's Public Works of Art project, for which Soyer painted 
a large picture of the East Side waterfront; then the Treasury's Section of 
Fine Arts, for which he painted, with Raphael, the panels previously men- 
tioned; and finally the W.P.A. art project, for which he executed a series of 
ten panels dealing with child life which have since been installed in a New 
York orphan asylum. In the meantime his easel-painting was not neglected. 
The man is a tireless worker. Short, slight, gentle of voice and manner, one 
would suppose that he is fragile rather than indefatigable, yet the fact is he 
paints long hours day after day. It is not mere industriousncss that animates 
him, however; it is a passion to paint, to paint more skillfully, to paint more 
truly. In the area of observation and feeling that he has marked off for him- 
self, he has sought relentlessly to secure the mastery that is within the range 
of his talents. 

The products of his easel began to appear regularly in group shows. The 
first occasion was in 1926 at J. B. Neumann's, where he was hung along with 
Kuhn, Sheeler, Weber, Burliuk, Becker and Fiene.* It was not long before 
he was attracting favorable attention. Neumann felt justified in giving him 
a one-man show in 1929. It was a critical success. A second show was held 
in 1936 at the Kleeman Gallery. Macbeth showed him in 1940, '41, and '43. 
The Boyer Gallery in Philadelphia showed him in 1936 and '37, the Little 
Gallery in Washington in 1939 and '40. By now there were collectors who 
were buying his canvases frequently. Examples of his work were bought for 

* He subsequently became a close friend of some of tbese men, particularly Burliuk. His relationship 
with Burliuk, an early and very gifted expressionist, has been particularly intimate and generous. 
Others with whom Soyer has been associated are Peter Blume and Louis Ribak in his stuoent days, 
Joseph Stella, Nicolai Cikovsky, Abraham Walkowitz, and Chaim Gross in recent years. 



[10] 



the permanent collections of the Phillips Memorial Gallery in Washington, 
the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Los Angeles, New- 
ark, and Toledo Museums, the Swope Gallery in Terre Haute, and the Con- 
gressional Library. The reviews of his shows in the metropolitan press con- 
tained phrases like these: "A rich, resonant feeling for color" . . . "an artist 
of marked taste, inventiveness and originality" . . . "an accomplished drafts- 
man" . . . "has mastered the ABC of anatomy so well that he can afford to 
forget about it and give spontaneity to his remarkable range of bodily expres- 
sion" . . . "assured craftsmanship and quiet felicity of color" . . . "warm human 
insight" . . . "an artist of individuality." Jn short, he has come to be regarded 
seriously as a serious painter, and he is one of a relatively small group of 
American artists of his generation of whom that can be said. 

I do not want my statement of his position to be misconstrued. I certainly 
do not want his position to be exaggerated. I le has not been widely publicized. 
He has not created a "school" and controversies do not rage over him. There 
is nothing spectacular or even particularly exciting about either the man or 
his work. The man is rather quiet and unassuming. He has stayed in his 
studio and has painted honestly and with utterly sincere emotion what he gen- 
uinely knows and understands, in the manner that is most natural to him. 
The result is a body of work that is similarly rather quiet and unassuming 
and frankly bearing the stamp of the studio. That is not the kind of work that 
stirs up a great noise. It fails to be fashionable because the colors are not bril- 
liant enough, the composition not sufficiently decorative, the subjects not pro- 
vocative and not glamorous; it fails to be discussed because it is neither ec- 
centric, nor aggressively American, nor regional, nor anything else that lends 
itself to news stories. It is merely first-rate painting, deeply felt and thoroughly 
comprehended, in the realistic (not the pictorial or the photographic) "tradi- 
tion." Undeniably, the range has so far been limited. But that is equally true 
of some of the great painters of the past. The problem is not primarily how 
large the canvas is or how far the artist has roamed. It is at all times the validity 
and beauty of his communication to the spectator. Not long ago a picture 
magazine with an immense national circulation enthusiastically publicized 
some paintings of the ballet by an attractive young woman. I invite the reader 
to compare them with all their sentimentality, prettiness, and pictorial arti- 
ficewith the paintings of dancers and ballet girls by Moses Soyer. I can 
quite understand that Soyer's canvases would not impart much glamour to 
the pages of a popular magazine. They are not pretty, they are not conspic- 



[11] 



uously decorative. But I am sure that their honesty, their realism, their fine 
feeling for the human beings who dance as well as for the pleasing lines of 
their bodies, will be treasured a good deal longer by those who love both the 
dance and painting. 

He is not a path-breaker, not an aesthetic revolutionary. His conceptions 
are not of the greatest magnitude. One is tempted, of course, to ask cynically 
if there are many among the younger American artists of whom that could 
not be said. But that is perhaps unnecessary. Soyer has made and is con- 
tinuing to make an appreciable contribution to the visual understanding of 
our community. In so doing he has given us canvases that please and move us 
and that are durable. An artist needs no other justification to be regarded not 
simply seriously, but also affectionately. And when, in addition, he has the 
distinction of having been among the first to look into certain significant 
but theretofore usually ignored or hidden phases of modern life, then we 
know that his position is assured as a figure to be reckoned with in contem- 
porary art. 

The realistic "tradition" has not been a static thing. It has moved, changed. 
We can make a parallel with realism in American literature. Eakins and 
Homer were contemporaries of Frank Morris and Stephen Crane; Sloan, Luks, 
and Bellows were contemporaries of Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and Sherwood 
Anderson; the Soyers belong with the painters whose literary counterparts are 
Steinbeck, Caldwell, and Farrell. The change has been from direct observa- 
tion, whether inspired by a tragic sense or by an urbane taste for the enjoy- 
ment of the actual, toward observation so intimate that it becomes participa- 
tiona movement from looking sympathetically at the people toward becom- 
ing one with the people. 

In such painting the eye is less concerned with the obviously picturesque 
than with the significant inner reality. Compare, for example, Reginald 
Marsh's flamboyant and amusing paintings of dressed-up colored girls with 
Soyer's quiet, painful canvas of a Negress ironing (a product of the early 
1930*5). The one gives us a spectacle (and does it brilliantly); the other gives 
us a moment of experience. The point is capable of even broader interpreta- 
tion. In studying the paintings of the Whitney group Sloan, Luks, Hart, et 
al. we feel always a kind of Whitmanesque mood. These painters seem to 
be saying to us, "Here are the people vigorous, lusty, suffering, loving, 
brawling." Sometimes the mood takes a tragic turn; more often it is an appre- 
ciative mood appreciation of the color of life, of reality. In Soyer's work the 



[12] 



artist does not mingle with the people he is the people. He seems to be say- 
ing, "Here we are hurt, shoved aside, but still alive, still resisting, still hop- 
ing/' Neither the condescension of pity nor the insult of charity i^ here. 
Rather there is an implied protest, an undercurrent of anger, together with 
the simplicity of atmosphere that is the inarticulate, subdued mood of merely 
being. The points of view and the moods of the Whitney group and the 
Soyers are equally interesting and perhaps equally to be cherished, but they 
are different and require different critical approaches. 

The characteristic Soyers which is to say the canvases that Soyer's name 
has usually brought to mind and that represent the kind of work with which 
he has so far been identified are the products chiefly of the 1930'*. They 
were painted, in other words, during the depression; and they reflect their 
period. Among them, for example, are a picture of an employment agency 
which successfully conveys an atmosphere of shabbiness and resignation; a 
picture of a group of dockworkers composed as a simple pattern of faces, black 
and white, young and old, but all grim and tired; a study of an old worker, 
his face gaunt and lined by years of labor and haunted by a sense of defeat; 
a picture of a homeless man, the title of which, "Alone, ' says all that needs 
to be said about it; several canvases, poignant and tender, of young seam- 
stresses, their thin bodies bent over sewing machines. (One of the latter, 
dated 1938, hangs in the Metropolitan.) We find also a number of Negro 
studies, which are remarkable for their objectivity; for there is no racial feel- 
ing in them whatever. They are simply studies of human beings the color of 
whose skin happens to be dark instead of light. That lack of color conscious- 
ness, that refusal to exploit both the romantic and the tragic traditions of the 
race, is not only unique among white painters, but extremely rare even among 
their Negro colleagues. Jt is an additional indication of Soyer's interest in 
people as inhabitants of our community, not as pictorial drama. 

There is, of course, another group of canvases that arc characteristically 
Soyer paintings of dancers and models, almost all of them young girls of 
fresh and natural visage and rather frail bodies, never chic, never provocative, 
never in sophisticated settings and generally caught in familiar gestures. A 
single mood pervades these works a wistful and tender sympathy for those 
charming and appealing creatures who live precariously on the fringes of the 
art and dance worlds. The interior being is not, to be sure, the artist's sole 
interest in these subjects. There is nothing insensitive about his modeling of 
their graceful legs and young breasts; and in the studies of dancers, whether 



rehearsing or at rest, his treatment of their slender bodies is anything but 
ascetic. Yet the final impression upon the spectator is of youth that is ardent, 
idealistic, but unsure of achievement. The artist has again conveyed a mes- 
sage about the weak and the unsuccessful of our society. The message is un- 
mistakable when he paints the same subjects as poorly dressed girls home- 
ward bound from work, or simply as studies of heads. When there is neither 
the decorative color of a costume nor the beauty of the nude to distract the 
spectator from the face of the subject, the pathos of anonymity is obvious in all 
these canvases. 

Taken together the two groups of paintings constitute a fair example of 
what is often called "social art/' It is a phrase that will not stand severe critical 
analysis, for it implies that some art does not have a social origin or that it 
fails to express or satisfy some current in or preoccupation of society cither 
implication being absurd. Its value is largely that of a slogan, and as such it 
has had an influence and an effect. It refers, of course, to the contemporary 
interest in the life, problems, and aspirations of the masses, and it was used 
in the struggle against the conception that only the fashionable, the romantic, 
and the lurid arc worthy of the artist's attention. It was a call to action to 
persuade artists to become part of the progressive social movements of our 
time, to express them and paint for them in short, to paint the people in- 
stead of either the aristocracy or bohemia. This general tendency, part of the 
increasing democratization of culture, no longer requires an apologia. It is 
accepted, without the slogans. Our art is pervaded by an awareness of the 
world we live in, and of the people who live in it. The slogans, and the battles 
out of which they were born, have done their work. Along with the paintings 
that represent the private, the anarchistic, the mathematical, and the purely 
aesthetic impulses, we are also getting paintings that represent certain social 
visions. Soyer's place in American art rests upon that fact. He is one of those 
who in our time have reunited humanity and art. He has been a force in the 
movement that has turned the artist's eye toward the submerged and the 
oppressed. 

With that battle won, it might be supposed that Soyer would continue 
indefinitely to swim with the current he helped create. That has not been 
the case. His point of view and his essential artistic impulses are constant, but 
his interests and sensibilities are, as I have said, broadening. During the past 
few years a happier mood has begun to appear in his canvases and a greater 
interest in abstract and formal problems. This development manifested itself 



first in a changing palette. The "social' paintings of the 1930'$ were domi- 
nated by browns, greys, and olive greens colors befitting the "depression" 
subjects he dealt with, but somewhat less than felicitous in his paintings of 
dancers. Even the latter subjects were treated in subdued and inconspicuous 
colors. The yellows were dull, the blues melancholy. In his recent paintings, 
however, there are shining silvers, opalescent greens, charming pinks, bright 
roses and blues. It is as though the artist had finally permitted the sunlight to 
come into his studio; more, it is as though he himself had suddenly felt its 
warmth and gaiety in himself. The change has become noticeable in his 
treatment of the faces of his dancers. They are now in repose, their eyes are 
peaceful, their faces are often unashamedly pretty. Still more recently we 
have found the artist's eye relatively uninterested in their faces; it has turned 
toward their bodies, singly as isolated aesthetic objects, or in groups as inter- 
esting formal patterns. He has begun, in sum, to cope more seriously with 
structure and spatial relationships, even while remaining faithful to the 
subjects that were his first loves. I le is moving closer to the tradition of Degas. 
And now at last he is beginning to paint landscapes, whereas not many years 
ago his only excursions from the studio were to paint city streets. 

Artists with social vision and a feeling for aesthetic problems are not, in 
our day, excessively common. Hence one watches Soycrs development, in 
his present phase, with acute interest. He has reached a high enough level of 
maturity and made a sufficiently satisfactory personal adjustment to reality to 
warrant our anticipating a rich How of canvases in the future. And in the 
meantime, the body of completed work represents a genuine American artist. 
J emphasize "American" because somehow we have been deluded into think- 
ing that only works from Missouri or Iowa, only rural subjects, arc native 
as though the city were not American and as though the inbred Nordic farmer 
were any more American than the melting pot. There was a time, before 
the resurgence of provincialism and local arrogance, when the melting pot 
of the great city was the symbol and boast of this country. It was then, and 
will again be, the uniquely American characteristic. Moses Soyer represents 
it proudly. 



[15] 




Artist (uid His Wife. 1944. 



1 6 




Dancer. 1942. Collection Joseph H. Hirshhorn. 



17] 




After / } /<n 




The Old Master* [Dar'ul Ritrlhik ami Joseph Slella]. 




11 oiinni Ironing. H;-;V 




l at Seu'ino Machine. iy$~. Collection Metwpulittiu MIIWUHJ a\ ,\rt 




Alone. J937- Collection Captain Marvin Linick. 




Old Worker. 7948. Collection Phillips Memorial Gallery. 

1 24] 




Joseph Stella. 1944. 




Anna. 1943. 




1 he Artist's l"'cwnl\. /y-j/. (.luUectiun liinil J. Arnold. 




W oi mug 




Mother and Child, 1941. (Collection Dr. l : clix Hofruau. 



3 




On the Threshold. 1942. 




(/>/ in Red. 1940. (Collection Mr. r Mrs. Bernard Smith. 




hmpioytnent Agency. 




Woman Ironing. 1943. 




\uung Girl. 193$. Collection S. Cohen. 



35] 




The Cobbler. 1943. 




On Cue [The Artist's Wife]. 1944. 



[37] 




Three Dancers in Blue. 1940. 



[38 




4'J 




Appointment after Performance. 




Nude. 



43 




Port 6/c f5rs. 1943. 



44] 




Mrs. Shuon Beagle 




Madame Bitrliuk /Detail]. 1942. 




In the Studio. 1938. 



52 J 




\ ] inlc. 




I 'he tlihbon. 1944. 




Intcrnmuon. 1042. Collection Jack Passer. 




June 6th, 1944. 



[58] 



LIST OF PAINTINGS 

COLOR PLATE: THE NEW COSTUME. 

I . THE ARTIST AND HIS WIFE. 

2. DANCER. 

3. AFTER PLAY. 

4. THE OLD MASTERS [DAVID BURLIUK AND JOSEPH STELLA] 

5. REBA. 

6. WOMAN IRONING. 

7. CIRL AT SEWING MACHINE. 

8. ALONE. 

9. OLD WORKER. 

1 O. DOCKWORKERS. 

I I . JOSEPH STELLA. 

12,. ANNA. 

13. THE ARTIST'S FAMILY. 

14. MORNING. 

1 5. MOTHER AND CHILD. 

I 6, ON THE THRESHOLD. 

1 7. GIRL IN RED. 

I 8. EMPLOYMENT ACKNCY. 

19. WOMAN IRONING. 

2.0. YOUNG GIRL. 

2,1 . THE COBBLER. 

22. ON CUE [THE ARTIST'S WIFE]. 

23. THREE DANGERS IN BLUE. 

24. NUDE STUDY. 

25. STUDIO GOSSIP. 

26. ROCK PORT. 

27. APPOINTMENT AFTER PERFORMANCE. 

2.8. NUDE. 

2.9. PORT DF; BRAS. 

30. NELL. 

3 i . THE ARTIST'S FATHER. 

32.. BETHUNE STREET ON SUNDAY. 

33. MADAME BURLIUK [DETAIL]. 

34. GIRL SLEEPING. 

35. THE KISS. 

36. DAVID AND BEAMISH. 

37. IN THE STUDIO. 

38. STUDIES. 

39. NUDE. 

40. THE RIBBON. 

4 I . SPANISH DANCERS. 
42,. INTERMISSION. 
43. JUNE 6TH, 1944. 



7 



Two thousand copies have been printed 
by The Salisbury Press in New York. 



143287