The Jewish painter of Russian origin Raphael Soyer, like his twin brother Moses, was a prominent figure in the New York art world as a major practitioner of the urban realism advocated by the members of the American Scene. Raphael remained faithful to this language throughout his artistic career, as can be seen in this late Self-Portrait belonging to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza collection.
Besides painting urban scenes, Soyer was strongly attracted to portraiture. He produced a large number of self-portraits, in addition to many portraits of his relatives and friends. This outstanding example is a frontal image of the artist at his easel in the solitude of his New York studio. It was executed in 1980, shortly after his diaries were published, and may therefore be regarded as an act of recapitulation and self-exploration.
The direct, solemn figure of the painter, by then in his eighties, stands out against the whiteness of the background wall that is half plastered following a repair, and on which hangs a detail from Masaccio’s Tribute Money. This small copy, which is part of the famous fresco paintings in the Brancacci chapel, is reversed because Soyer used a mirror to paint the whole scene. With its simple setting and total absence of conceit and the inquiring expression the subject wears, the portrait captures the painter’s warm, straightforward personality.