Raphael Soyer was a painter, draughtsman, and printmaker who believed that "if art is to survive, it must describe and express people, their lives and times. It must communicate." From an early age Soyer and his brothers Moses and Isaac were encouraged to draw by their father, a teacher of Hebrew literature and history. Forced to leave Russia in 1912, they immigrated to the United States and settled in Brooklyn. In the mid 1920s, having studied at Cooper Union, the National Academy of Design, and the Art Students League, Soyer painted scenes of life on New York's east side. His portrayals of derelicts, working people, and the unemployed around Union Square during the Depression reveal more of a poignant vision of the human condition than the art of social protest popular with many of his contemporaries. Throughout his life Soyer painted people—his friends, himself, studio models—with an unerring eye for intimacy and mood.
Virginia M. Mecklenburg Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Foundation Collection (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press for the National Museum of American Art, 1987)