95.3 cm x 86.7 cm (37 1/2 in. x 34 1/8 in.)
(Borisoglebsk, Russia, 1899 - 1987, New York, New York)
North America, American
Medium and Support:
Oil on canvas
Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Mari and James A. Michener, 1991
Raphael Soyer was one of the leading proponents of a painting style called Social Realism, whose aim was to document the social and political mood of life during the years of the Great Depression. While other Social Realists, like Philip Evergood, were known for their searing indictments of poverty, Soyer’s tone was gentler and more sympathetic, though no less a call to action.
His renderings of individuals, like these men waiting for public assistance, encourage the viewer to identify with the subjects and to empathize with their boredom and despair. Each weathered face in this group is an individual portrait—in fact, the figure on the left is Walter Broe, a homeless man who the artist employed as a model on many occasions, and the yawning figure toward the right rear is Raphael Soyer himself.
Drawing and painting from models provided the foundation for Soyer’s practice, and he gained his carefully articulated insights from direct observation. His brand of realism was marked by its unflinching honesty and uncommon humanity. In many ways his paintings act as counterpoints to the great documentary photographs of the era taken by artists such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans.