Girl Wearing Roses
Girl Wearing Roses
American (born in Russia), 1899–1974
Oil on canvas
25 x 20 inches
Wichita Art Museum, Gift of Mr. David Soyer
Not Currently on Display
About the Artwork
In painting a portrait of a human being, the artist is never satisfied with pure imitation. Of course, he must have reverence for his subject, but he must also probe deeply into his subject’s personality and emotional state. And his product, the finished portrait, must certainly exceed simple photographic likeness, for the artist’s mission regardless of what he paints is to discover and reveal humanity beneath the surface.
This was certainly the objective of Moses Soyer when he executed this very refined portrait, an oil on canvas titled Girl Wearing Roses. Here a beautiful young woman with dark brown hair and wearing a white gown with a blue-green sash is shown silhouetted against a gray background as she sits on a Windsor chair with her arms folded across her lap. Her red lips echo the full red roses that she wears at the neckline of her gown and in her hair. In his rendering of the delicate facial features — the slightly parted lips, the slender nasal ridge, the dreamy but alert eyes — Soyer has sympathetically and with great subtlety captured the glowing innocence of youth in this painting.
Yet like any true work of art, this painting is not a pure imitation. Instead it has a life of its own, largely independent of subject matter. Compositionally, the wide dark vertical bar at the far left defines the spatial depth of the setting and serves to balance the more dominant form of the sitter who occupies the center and right foreground. The heavy outlines of the hands and arms emphasize the contrasting delicacy of the face. And although the mood of the young sitter is peaceful and tranquil, the overall bravura of the brushwork effectively imparts an energetic vitality both to the sitter and to the composition.
Moses Soyer was born in Tombov, Russia in 1899. In 1912, he with his twin brother, Raphael Soyer, emigrated to New York City. He studied at the Cooper Union Art School and the National Academy of Design as well as with Robert Henri and George Bellows, and was forced to support himself by performing various jobs including factory work and selling newspapers. Throughout the ’20s and ’30s he was clearly associated with the so-called “Fourteenth Street School” of New York painters whose chosen subject matter was the everyday life of the poor laboring classes who lived and worked in and around Union Square. However, Soyer also deeply admired the art of Degas and in many instances was enormously influenced by Degas’ ballet dancers, and it is perhaps that interest which is suggested in Girl Wearing Roses. Major exhibitions of Soyer’s works have been held in numerous museums across the country and his paintings are included in the Metropolitan Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and many others. Soyer died in New York City in 1974.