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November 22, 1999

Library of Congress to Exhibit World War II Era Prints and Drawings by Arthur Szyk

The Library of Congress celebrates the recent acquisition of several important original works by Polish American artist and illustrator Arthur Szyk with an exhibition in the Swann Gallery. The exhibition "Arthur Szyk: Artist for Freedom," curated by Harry Katz, opens on December 9, and closes on May 6, 2000. The gallery, located adjacent to the new Visitors Center in the Jefferson Building, is open to the public free of charge from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Arthur Szyk (pronounced "Shick") (1894-1951), cartoonist, illuminator, and miniaturist, achieved international prominence during World War II when he produced hundreds of anti-Axis illustrations and cartoons in aid of the Allied war effort. Throughout his career he created art in the service of human rights and civil liberties, in his native Poland, in Paris where he was trained during the 1920s, and in America, the country he adopted in 1940, saying, "At last, I have found the home I have always searched for. Here I can speak of what my soul feels. There is no other place on earth that gives one the freedom, liberty and justice that America does."

The exhibition features three of Szyk's most important original works of graphic Americana, acquired recently by the Library as part of its "Gifts to the Nation" program. The Declaration of Independence, given by a private collector, forms the locus of the exhibition. Szyk produced this large, late masterpiece for the Fourth of July celebration in his adopted town of New Canaan, Connecticut, in 1950. He received a standing ovation when local Girl Scouts unveiled it. Two additional works, Four Freedoms Prayer and Bill of Rights, given by Alexandra Bracie, the artist's daughter, further express Szyk's devotion to the principles of freedom, liberty, and democracy. Exquisitely drawn in the meticulous, miniature, and medieval style of illumination for which he was known, they remain powerful and moving examples of the illustrators' art.

Szyk was born in Lodz, Poland, acquiring his early art training in Paris and Krakow. Between 1919 and 1920, during Poland's war against the Soviet Bolsheviks, he served as artistic director of the Department of Propaganda for the Polish army regiment quartered in Lodz. In 1921, he moved to Paris, where he lived and worked for 10 years. In 1934 Szyk traveled to the United States for exhibitions of his work, including the Library of Congress, where a series of 38 miniatures commemorating George Washington and the Revolutionary period were shown.

He embraced the patriotic spirit of his adopted country, particularly evident in the symbolism in The United States of America, including an African American and Native American who struggled for freedom and power, as well as popular imagery familiar to many Americans: Hoover Dam, the Manhattan skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pony Express. A fine example of his art promoting the war effort appears on the September 12, 1942, cover of Collier's also included in the exhibition. He created memorable anti-Nazi cartoons, many of which appeared in two volumes, The New Order (1941) and Ink & Blood (1946), both of which are featured in the exhibition. He also illustrated numerous books, including a richly rendered, magnificently printed Haggadah (1940), of which a limited edition printed on vellum will be on display.

The exhibition and accompanying brochure are funded by the generous support of the Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund for Caricature and Cartoon. The Swann Gallery showcases the collections of the Library of Congress in rotating exhibitions and promotes the ongoing Swann Foundation program in the study of cartoon, caricature and illustration, while also offering a provocative and informative selection of works by past masters. New York advertising executive Erwin Swann (1906-1973) assembled an extraordinarily diverse collection of nearly 2,000 works of cartoon art representing 400 artists and spanning two centuries. He developed the collection specifically to promote the preservation and connoisseurship of original cartoon and illustration drawings. Among the collection's highlights are sketches by such European masters as Guillaume Chevalier Gavarni and Richard Doyle; works by celebrated American illustrators including John Held Jr. and Ralph Barton; American newspaper cartoon strip works by such pioneering cartoonists as Richard F. Outcault and Winsor McCay; and contemporary cartoons and illustrations by renowned artists, including Edward Sorel, Anita Siegel, Jean- Claude Suarez, Andre Francois, and Eugene Mihaesco.

An illustrated checklist, printed in color, will be available to visitors.

More information on this exhibition as well as the Library of Congress's print and drawing collections is available through the Swann Foundation's Web site: www.loc.gov/rr/print/swann/swannhome.html, by e-mailing: swann@loc.gov, or by calling Sara Duke, Curatorial Project Assistant, at (202) 707-9115 or Harry Katz at (202) 707-8696.

The Library of Congress, founded April 24, 1800, is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution. It preserves a collection of 115 million items -- more than two-thirds of which are in media other than books. These include the largest map and film and television collections in the world. In addition to its primary mission of serving the research needs of the U.S. Congress, the Library serves all Americans through its popular Web site (www.loc.gov) and in its 21 reading rooms on Capitol Hill.

"We will celebrate with pride our first 200 years of Library history," said James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress. "During that time, the Library has grown into the world's largest repository of knowledge and creativity, which it has preserved for all generations of Americans. We want to take advantage of this opportunity to energize national awareness of the critical role that all libraries play in keeping the spirit of creativity and free inquiry alive in our society."

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PR 99-175
11/22/99
ISSN 0731-3527

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