Alice Neel's portrait of Raphael Soyer is a premier example of the artist's most accomplished works. Raphael was a fellow artist and longtime friend of Neel's, an artist with roots in the artistic traditions of social-realism's Fourteenth Street School and a sympathetic socialist. Neel and Soyer had been longtime acquaintances since the 1930s, and became much closer in the 1970s. It was a very difficult artistic journey for both artist's as they have long been working against the current trends in American avant garde art; this common adversity brought them closer.
In this portrait of 1970 Neel puts the viewer in an uncompromising position; the sitter stares directly out from the canvas and forces us to confront the hard facts of a known yet too-rarely celebrated artist. Neel's portrayal is so immediate that it is impossible not to read the sitter's history through deep set eye's a wrinkled brow and sunken cheeks. Neel squeezes from us a sympathetic reading of this figure and makes us want more. This portrait is as successful as they get, Neel's interest and emotional involvement, her understanding of the sitters life and struggles are detailed with conviction, she has empathetically captured not only a remarkable likeness but even more rare, the spirit of her subject.