click image to close
Banner 2
Send to a Friend | Print This Page

Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole
by Magdalena J. Zaborowska
Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, November 2004

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) is considered by scholars and art critics to have been the greatest 20th century illuminator working in the style of 16th century miniaturist painters.  Joseph P. Ansell, long a painter himself and   currently head of the Art Department at Auburn University, has written a fascinating and richly illustrated biography of the extraordinary life trajectory of this Polish Jewish artist who used the techniques of Renaissance illumination to celebrate both the Jewish heritage (most notably in his illustrated Haggadah) and the promise of an independent Poland (in his monumental illumination of the 13th-century Statute of Kalisz, in which Kings Casimir III and IV had guaranteed Poland’s Jews fair treatment under the law, then fled the Nazis, crossed the Atlantic, and applied much of those same techniques to celebrate the United States’ founding fathers and the Declaration of Independence, and above all to apply the color and precision of his illuminations to anti-Fascist propaganda that made him widely known and loved through the covers of Collier’s, Time, and Esquire as America’s leading political caricaturist. An early exhibition and book of his wartime cartoons called The New Order had immediate impact:

"I know of no other instance in which the decorative apparatus of miniature painting has been combined with the onslaught of direct cartooning to produce an instrument of such deadly effectiveness." - Thomas Craven, author and art critic

"Here is the terrible bestiality of today's aggression, set forth with polished and relentless art...Not with the simplicity of caricature but with a medieval sedulousness of detail, these pictures portray the world's tragedy... The perfection of these remarkable drawings is the artist’s weapon in humanity's fight." - The New York Times, 1941