Artist, Jew, Pole
Joseph P. Ansell
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.
Joseph P. Ansell was, until his death in 2006, Professor of Art and Head of the Department of Art at Auburn University. For many years before, and during the early years of his research on Arthur Szyk, he maintained an active record as a professional artist, exhibiting throughout the United States, and in England, Ireland, and Japan. He published articles on Szyk’s work in American and European journals and lectured on Szyk to general and professional audiences in the United States, England, and Poland. He also wrote on aspects of the history of graphic design and on contemporary art.
List of Plates
Part I: The Growth of an Artist
Part II: The Way Years
From Miniature to Caricature • An Artist with a Message • A Public Service Artist • The Turn towards Peace
Part III: Late Career
Drawing Lessons • Illustrations for a Young Peace • Fighting for Israel • In a Changing America • Valediction
Part IV: Who was Arthur Szyk?
Creating Arthur Szyk • The Jewish Artist • The Political Artist
Exhibitions and Reviews of Szyk’s Work
Published Political Cartoons 1930–1950
War Cartoons: Corporate Use
‘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
‘A marvelous and well-deserved biography.’
Stephen Mark Dobbs, J, the Jewish Newspaper of Northern California
‘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
Size: 240 x 165 mm
15 colour illustrations and 24 B&W illustrations
Publication: November 25, 2004
Series: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization