Arthur Szyk

Arthur Szyk

Arthur Szyk was born in Lodz, Poland on 3rd June, 1894. Szyk left home at the age of fifteen to study art in Paris. On the outbreak of the First World War he returned home and joined the Russian Army and later served on the Eastern Front. After Russia signed the Brest-Litovsk Treaty, Szyk fought in the Polish army against the Red Army.

In 1921 Szyk moved to France where he resumed his art studies. Szyk experimented with various contemporary styles before being deeply influenced by the intricate and decorative style of illumination. This resulted in Szyk being commissioned to produce the 45 page Statute of Kalisz, which glorified the 13th century edict granting rights of citizenship to Jews in Poland. Szyk's work included miniature scenes and portraits, illuminated initial letters, decorative and symbolic border patterns and calligraphy. In 1931 Szyk was commissioned by the League of Nations to illuminate its charter.

Szyk became a strong opponent of Adolf Hitler and his regime in Nazi Germany. In 1934 he commented: "An artist, and especially a Jewish artist, cannot be neutral in these times.... Our life is involved in a terrible tragedy, and I am resolved to serve my people with all my art, with all my talent, with all my knowledge."

Arthur Szyk, The New Order (1941)
Arthur Szyk, The New Order (1941)

Szyk decided to move to England. When the German Army invaded Poland in 1939 Szyk went to the United States in an attempt to sway public opinion against the Nazis. He now began to use his considerable skills within the genre of political caricature. His work appeared in the New York Post, the New York Times and Collier's and he became known as "Franklin Roosevelt's soldier with a pen".

An anthology of Szyk's anti-Fascist caricatures appeared in his book, The New Order in 1941. Later that year a survey conducted by Esquire magazine revealed that Szyk's political cartoons were more popular with young Americans in training under the Selective Service Act than photos of movie actresses or pin-up girls.

Arthur Szyk, Hermann Goering,Benito Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito (1942)
Arthur Szyk, Hermann Goering,
Benito Mussolini and Emperor Hirohito (1942)

Szyk's not only attacked Hitler's views on the Jewish race but all forms of prejudice. He was one of the first artist's to criticize segregation and other aspects of racism against blacks in the American armed forces.

After the war Szyk's views on equality brought him to the attention of Joseph McCarthy. Arthur Szyk was being investigated by Joseph McCarthy when he died of a heart attack on 13th September, 1951.

Arthur Szyk, Self-Portait (1945)
Arthur Szyk, Self-Portait (1945)
© , September 1997 - April 2014