Raphael Soyer was born in 1899 in Tombov, Russia. He emigrated, with his family, to the United States in 1912. Soyer pursued an education in art at Cooper Union from 1914 to 1917 and at the National Academy of Design from 1918 to 1922. He also attended the Art Students League, intermittently.
Until the late 1920s, Soyer’s work was considered primitive in nature, featuring shallow, pictorial space and figures depicted in caricature. During the Depression, Soyer began using subjects more directly related to the prevailing economic difficulties. During this time, he also executed a number of lithographs of Depression scenes, developing his subjects from New York’s poorest neighborhoods. During the 1940s, Soyer began to use, increasingly, the subject of women at work or posing in his studio.
Soyer was given a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1967. He taught at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League and the New School, all in New York.