Janet Sobel was named Jennie Lechovsky when she was born in Ukraine in 1894. She came to the United States after her father was killed by antisemites in 1908. Janet Sobel settled in New York and came to painting later in life. She was a self-taught artist and really didn't begin painting until 1939. Initially her art was inspired by the traditional folk art traditions from her native Ukraine. At that time, her paintings were categorized using insulting terms like "primitive" because it was not coming from a member of the dominant culture. Still, as a New Yorker in the mid 20th century, she had opportunities to see and connect with influential artists. She gravitated toward the surrealists.
Sobel's son recognized her talents and introduced her to Max Ernst, the prominent surrealist artist. Around this time Ernst was married to Peggy Guggenheim and she was quite impressed with Sobel. Peggy Guggenheim considered Janet Sobel to be one of the best female painters in America. Guggenheim included Sobel in a group show in 1945 then gave her a solo show in 1946. Unfortunately her meteoric rise in the art world came to an almost immediate end when she moved to New Jersey in 1946. She was farther from the vibrant New York art scene and ceased painting in oils.