Artist and illustrator Arthur Szyk was a Polish Jew whose work was overwhelmingly Jewish in theme and content. In a lifetime of creativity that spanned many of the major events of the twentieth century and took him from Poland to France, England, and the United States, the mission he set himself was to use his artistic talents to serve humanity and the Jewish people. Though his politics were dictated by what he thought would be good for the Jews, his work as a political artist went well beyond a narrow definition of the Jewish cause.
He is best known among Jews for his illustrated Haggadah, but the overwhelming majority of his work deals with contemporary political themes and social causes. In his native Poland, Szyk promoted the causes of freedom, toleration, and human dignity, drawing his inspiration from the Old Testament. He believed that as a Jewish artist he had a responsibility to speak for all minorities. His famous illustration of the historical Statute of Kalisz symbolized his belief that the newly re-established Polish state would welcome all its citizens into full and equal participation. Even though at that time he was already based outside Poland, he worked for many years on behalf of the Polish government in an effort to strengthen the Jews’ position.
Szyk left Europe in 1940 and arrived in the United States via Canada later the same year. Determined as ever to use his art for political purposes, he crusaded against the Nazis through newspaper and magazine cartoons, posters and public exhibitions. Convinced that Hitler would not stop with the Jews but would suppress all freedom-loving people, he supported the war effort through his striking propaganda images of the German and Japanese armies, to great effect. After the war he turned his efforts to promoting the idea of a Jewish homeland in Israel. In every phase of his career, one finds Szyk looking to the past but hoping for the future; he believed that art could make a difference in the world, politically and socially.
Joseph Ansell’s biography makes a singular contribution to the history of Jewish art and of Polish-Jewish relations in the first half of the twentieth century.
‘The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, whose admirable publications generally concern weighty topics of philosophy, religion, and history, has made a praiseworthy departure with this biography of the Polish American graphic artist Arthur Szyk... a substantial achievement.’
- W. Cahn, Choice
‘A marvelous and well-deserved biography.’
- Stephen Mark Dobbs, J, the Jewish Newspaper of Northern California
‘Joseph Ansell’s biography tackles an immensely difficult task with great skill... adorned with coloured illustrations of high quality... The book is a well-written introduction to the career of a remarkable man and artist.’
- Edgar Samuel, Jewish Historical Studies
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