Szyk, Arthur, 1894-1951

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Szyk, Arthur, 1894-1951

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Arthur Szyk was a Polish-Jewish artist who worked primarily as a book illustrator and political artist. He was born on June 16, 1894, into a prosperous middle-class Jewish family in Łódź, Poland. He showed artistic talent as a child. He studied art at Académie Julian in Paris, France, and at Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. He was closely involved with the social and civic life of Łódź, producing numerous drawings and caricatures on contemporary political themes, published in the Łódź satirical magazine Śmiech ("Laughter").
In 1921, he moved to Paris where he illustrated many books, e.g. the Book of Esther (Le livre d'Esther, 1925), followed by Gustave Flaubert's dialogue The Temptation of Saint Anthony (La tentation de Saint Antoine, 1926), and Pierre Benoît's novel Jacob's Well (Le puits de Jacob, 1927). In 1922, he spent some time in Morocco, then a protectorate of France, where he drew the portrait of the Pasha of Marrakech. In 1933, when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany, he drew his caricatures and other political caricatures of the leaders of the Axis powers (Hitler, Mussolini, Hirohito) which gained him broad popularity in the United States. In 1940, he settled permanently in the United States. His drawings appeared everywhere: in newspapers, magazines, on posters, postcards, and stamps, in secular, religious, and military publications, on public and military buildings. He also produced advertisements for Coca-Cola and U.S. Steel, and had over 25 exhibitions in many galleries all over the United States and in Poland, France, Israel, and the United Kingdom. The end of the war released him from the duty to fight Nazism through his caricatures and he returned to book illustrations, e.g. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and, most notably, books telling Bible stories, such as Pathways through the Bible by Mortimer J. Cohen (1946), The Book of Job (1946), The Book of Ruth (1947), The Ten Commandments (1947), The Story of Joseph and his Brothers (1949). Some of the books illustrated by Szyk were also published posthumously, including The Arabian Nights Entertainments (1954) and The Book of Esther (1974). In 1948, he was granted American citizenship. He commemorated the Israeli Declaration of Independence of 1948 by creating the richly decorated illumination of the Hebrew text of the declaration. He continued to be politically engaged criticizing the McCarthyism policy and signs of racism. His well-known drawings from 1949 show two armed members of the Ku Klux Klan approaching a tied-up African American; the caption for the drawing reads, "Do not forgive them, oh Lord, for they do know what they do."
In 1991, the non-profit organization The Arthur Szyk Society was established in Orange County, California, staging many exhibitions in the 1990s and 2000s and maintaining a large educational website, holding lectures, and producing publications on the artist.

In 1916, he married Julia Likerman and they had one son and one daughter. He died of a heart attack on September 14, 1951, in New Canaan, Fairfield County, Connecticut.


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