May 07, 2007

Arthur Szyk


In July 2002, I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The museum itself was moving beyond description, and I highly recommend it, but also I was pleasantly surprised to discover there an art gallery featuring the exhibit The Art and Politics of Arthur Szyk.

In exile from Poland during WWII, Arthur Szyk (pronounced "Shick") waged a battle against the Nazis with his cartoons. From the dust jacket of the exhibit's book:

Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) was one of the most creative an determined political activists of his time. A gifted book illustrator and illuminator, a skillful caricaturist, and a crusader for causes, this multifaceted artist ceaselessly defended the rights of Jews and advocated on their behalf.

Skilled in medieval manuscript illumination and Persian miniature painting, Szyk redirected his artistry during World War II into political cartoons that unmasked the face of the Nazi enemy and mobilized popular opinion. Calling attention to the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, he was determined not to "escape to still lifes, abstractions, and experiments" while darkness engulfed the world.

His caricatures became daily fare in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States. In the 1940s, Szyk's war-driven cartoons were published in Esquire, Collier's, Look, Liberty, Time and the Saturday Review of Literature. One magazine reported that Szyk cartoons were as popular as Betty Grable pin-ups for troops heading overseas.

I did not know about Szyk until I saw the exhibit and have since sought out his work. The editorial cartoon above is from his book The New Order (1941, G.P. Putnam's Sons), a collection of Szyk's wartime illustrations. You'll find a color version of the cartoon in the exhibit's book, which also states:

Szyk, for his part, created images that showed a valiant and defiant England fighting along against Nazi Germany. Though shaken by France's defeat, he retained an impassioned optimism in Britain's final victory. ...

Although Szyk's attitude toward Great Britain changed dramatically during the war over the issue of Jewish immigration to Palestine, he never lost faith in the ultimate victory of the Allies or in the just nature of their cause.

For more about Mr. Szyk and to see samples of his work, visit:

Arthur Szyk, Master Illuminator
Arthur Szyk, Artist for Freedom (Library of Congress)
The Arthur Szyk Society

And here's another post we created about him a few years back.

Posted by Forkum at May 7, 2007 03:40 PM