Raphael Soyer, “Protected,” 1938

Social Realist artist Raphael Soyer may not have been as famous as Picasso, but he captured the every day lives of many men and women in New York City. Soyer was a Russian-born American who emigrated with his family to the United States in 1912. In New York City Soyer pursued an art education at the Cooper Union from 1914 to 1917, at the National Academy of Design from 1918 to 1922, and intermittently at the Art Students League. He developed a brushy technique with little color—a style that translated well into printmaking techniques such as lithography. In the lithograph “Protected,” Soyer indicated the vulnerability of a baby with his or her mother. The baby seems very alarmed, yet curious. Maybe the mother was trying to get the baby to burp.

Raphael Soyer, "Protected," 1938. Lithograph, Gardiner Permanent Art Collection.

“Protected” was created in 1938—although just by looking at it, a person might have a hard time telling when it was created. The clothes are not that foreign from the rest of the twentieth century, and there is no definite background. Even though by looking at this print a person could not tell when it was created, that is what makes it so appealing. This print could depict any mother, son, or daughter, and anyone could relate to the reassurance of a mother’s love and protection.

The historical context of this print explains the era of vulnerability: the Depression. The fact that the artist didn’t use color in this print also plays into the “depression” context; it give the piece a gloomy feeling. I believe that the artist wanted to convey the closeness that people felt towards their families because of the Depression. The American people didn’t have much as far as material goods during this time; all they had were their loved ones. The mother figure and the baby represent the struggle that Americans were dealing with.

Author Ashly Mason was a senior enrolled in ART 3683: History of 20th Century Art in Fall 2010.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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