Masterpieces of Illumination
Upon receiving a standing ovation for The Declaration of Independence, one of his final masterpieces, at its unveiling in New Canaan, Connecticut on July 4, 1950, Szyk declared that it belonged in the Library of Congress. The drawing's size and scale are rare in Szyk's art, but it contains the same fine detail and miniaturist style as his smaller master works. Szyk became a United States citizen in 1948 and captures the patriotic and ambitious spirit of his adopted country with vignettes from the American Revolution, flags of all the states and territories, and such symbols as the Liberty Bell.
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Labeled “The Jewish Magna Carta,” The Statute of Kalisz signed in 1264 by Boleslav the Pious, Grand Duke of Poland, affirmed civil liberties for Polish Jewry. Szyk's illustrated text of the document represents a landmark in political art and Szyk's heroic career.
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Part of an ambitious project to represent sixty countries in a Visual History of Nations, Szyk selected the United States, his adopted country, as the first in the series of which only nine were eventually completed. The theme of freedom, central to his work, echoes throughout this drawing in the use of the bald eagle, soldier and sailor, and the emancipated slave. Rich in iconography singular to America, Szyk offers vignettes from the country's past and present: the Pony Express, a steamboat, an airplane, Hoover Dam, the Manhattan skyline, and Golden Gate Bridge.
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The motif of St. George and the dragon, a recurrent theme in Szyk's work, appears here with a quote by Thomas Jefferson. As in the Polish war relief poster (below), Szyk portrays St. George as a soldier fighting the dragon. Here, Syzk quotes Thomas Jefferson's “Eternal Hostility Letter,” dated September 23, 1800, to Dr. Benjamin Rush, in which he explains his defense of freedom of religion against efforts to create an established religion in the United States.
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Thomas Jefferson , 1951. Gouache, transparent watercolor and brown ink over graphite under drawing on illustration board. Lent by Irvin Ungar
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Szyk celebrates the American revolutionary era that created the Bill of Rights with this miniature. Notice the symbols of the new United States: flags, liberty bell, minuteman, officer, and bald eagle. This delicate drawing has fine details: the holly berries that form the back of the letter “B” have several pigments that could have only been created with a single-haired brush.
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Based on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's “Four Freedoms” speech to Congress on January 6, 1941, Szyk evokes the Renaissance with its domed churches and Madonna and child, as well as the formation of the United States. The slogans of the founding fathers have been carefully drawn into the image, including “United we stand, divided we fall,” underneath the prayer on the left; “That the government of the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth,” on a scroll before the white wise man; “Pursuit of happiness, life, liberty” on the offerings of the three “magi.” Szyk used several pigments in the creation of each element of this work of art that are only clearly visible under magnification.
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Arthur Szyk's illuminated Haggadah was a labor of love that consumed more than a decade of his life. He originally intended his Passover story to be a strong statement against the Nazis, but no publisher in Poland or Czechoslovakia dared take on a project with strong iconography. When he found a publisher in England, he created this dedication page to King George VI, imploring him in courtly fashion to found the State of Israel. Szyk caricatures himself in the lower right corner, as a puckish Medieval artist as many scribes had done before him.
No image available at this time.
The Haggadah [Dedication Leaf to King George], 1940. Executed by Arthur Szyk and edited by Cecil Roth. London : Beaconsfield Press, 1940. LC-USZC4-7411 (color film copy transparency) Gift of private collector. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress
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During World War II, Szyk produced numerous covers for American popular magazines in support of the war effort. This one celebrates the achievements of workers on the home front.
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Ink and Blood, a compilation of Szyk's anti-Axis cartoons and caricatures, was published after World War II. Opposite the title page, Szyk portrays himself drawing Adolf Hitler, whose animated, belligerent figure seems to flow from his pen. Standing on the table overseeing the artistic endeavor is Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's propaganda chief, holding a microphone of the German News Bureau. On the floor before the desk are: Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan (standing), Hermann Goering, head of the German Air Force (kneeling), and Henrich Himmler, head of the Nazi S.S. (below). Francisco Franco, Spanish dictator, is underneath Szyk's desk. Cast into the garbage are: Henri Petain, head of the Vichy government in France (right), Pierre Laval, another Vichy official (center), and Benito Mussolini, Italian premier (left). The Nazi eagle flies above Szyk's head, skewered by three arrows representing the allied forces of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.
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Published within Szyk's first year of permanent residence in the United States, The New Order, contains selections of cartoons and caricatures originally published in the New York newspaper, PM. The book was published in July 1941, five months before the United States entered War War II, and many of the cartoons reflect Szyk's optimism that it would end soon. The title page for this book bears the caricatures of Hermann Goering (center), Italian dictator Benito Mussolini (left), and Hideki Tojo, Prime Minister of Japan (right) that appeared in the pages of PM on Sunday, January 19, 1941.
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Cartoons and Caricatures
Published in London the year before Szyk emigrated to the United States, this cartoon shows his optimism that the Germans would soon be defeated by allied forces.
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Szyk portrays the Axis plot to dominate the world. Hitler sits at the head of the table (left), flanked by Joseph Goebels and Hermann Goering on his left, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to his right, and Heinrich Himmler across.
Europe is getting hot! We've got to move to the western hemisphere, 1944 Ink and graphite on paper. LC-USZC4-7403 (color film copy transparency) Library exchange with Arthur Szyk, 1944.
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Szyk's portrait of Japanese Admiral Yamamoto, the architect of the December 1941 attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbor, is a masterpiece of sophisticated political caricature. Published on the cover of Time just two weeks after the surprise assault, the image represents a spontaneous expression of fear and respect for a brilliant and dangerous adversary, in the aftershock of one of this country's greatest military debacles.
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Admiral Yamamoto, 1941. Ink and graphite on paper. Published cover for Time magazine, Dec. 22, 1941. LC-USZC4-4723 (color film copy transparency) Swann Fund Purchase
Japan's Aggressor: Admiral Yamamoto. Photomechanical print on paper. Time Magazine, December 22, 1941. Gift of Harry L. Katz © 1941 Time, Inc.
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In 1944, during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fourth and final presidential campaign, Szyk offered this derisive cartoon suggesting Axis leaders Hitler and Tojo would welcome a change in administration, hoping that FDR's successor might be less aggressive in prosecuting the war.
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World War II began on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Arthur Szyk was living in New York at the time and contributed this dramatic work, the only known poster he designed, to the cause of Polish war relief. The motif of St. George and the dragon was one Szyk turned to many times throughout his career, depicting the concept of good triumphing over evil. Here, he portrays St. George as a soldier, the personification of Poland, fighting the Nazi dragon.
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