Artist Soyer Dead at 87

Artist Rafael Soyer, who died here Wednesday at age 87, was a Russian-Jewish immigrant whose long and successful artistic career included illustrating books by Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Born Dec. 25, 1899 in the town of Borisoglebsk to a Jewish scholar and Hebrew teacher, Soyer immigrated to the United States with his family in 1912.

The diminutive Soyer — he was 5 feet, 2 inches tall — was a friend and colleague of Nobel literature laureate Singer for more than 30 years. After meeting in the elevator of their apartment building, Singer asked Soyer to illustrate his books “A Little Boy in Search of God” and “Love and Exile,” which were later published with another story in a volume entitled “Love and Exile,” for which Soyer was the illustrator.

He was “very Jewish and very international … I cannot praise him enough. He was a wonderful human being,” Singer told the JTA.

Soyer’s portrait of the late Israeli Premier Golda Meir was to have been included in a National Portrait Gallery exhibition to China last July, but Chinese authorities asked that the Meir portrait and one of Gen. Douglas MacArthur be removed. Rather than change the exhibit, the National Portrait Gallery canceled it.

Soyer’s works in the 1930s pictured people ravaged by the Depression. In 1966, he painted his neighbors on New York’s Lower East Side, including famous figures in the art and poetry world.

Singer said that he had “learned from Soyer how to write, because he was truly a great teacher in every way.” As a joke, Singer once reversed roles with Soyer. “I made a picture of him. You know, I cannot draw at all, but he hung it up in his study.”

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