Polish-born Jewish artist Arthur Szyk (Łódź, 1894—New Canaan, CT 1951) was a great advocate for humanity and for the global Jewish community. Szyk (pronounced Shik) achieved world-wide recognition in the 1920s and 1930s in Poland, France, and England before immigrating to the U.S. in 1940 where he went on to become the leading anti-Nazi artist during World War II. Szyk is also famous for his illuminated Passover Haggadah, and his iconic towering Holy Ark for the Forest Hills Jewish Center. Szyk’s work fought injustice and intolerance, bigotry and racism as a “soldier in art.”
This four-part lecture series by Szyk scholar Irvin Ungar will explore how and why Szyk is the artist of and for the Jewish people, and the ways his art and spirit remain eternal in the service of mankind.
Irvin Ungar is the world’s foremost expert on the art of Arthur Szyk and the tireless force behind the Szyk renaissance. A former pulpit rabbi fluent in Jewish history and tradition, Irvin is the CEO and founder of Historicana, an antiquarian book firm and small publishing house of Szyk imprints. Beginning in 1987, Irvin first specialized in Szyk’s remarkable illustrated books and quickly expanded his repertoire to include original art, fine art prints, and other important Szyk works. He has curated and consulted for numerous Szyk exhibitions at major institutions worldwide, including: the New-York Historical Society (New York City); the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; the Deutsches Historisches Museum (Berlin); the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (Washington, DC); and the Library of Congress. Irvin is the author of Arthur Szyk: Soldier in Art (2017 National Jewish Book Award winner) and Justice Illuminated: The Art of Arthur Szyk(1998). His most recent book Arthur Szyk Preserved: Institutional Collections of Original Art was published in 2023. Additionally, Irvin is the co-producer of the documentary film, “Soldier in Art: Arthur Szyk,” and the publisher of the luxury limited edition of The Szyk Haggadah (2008). He also served as the curator of The Arthur Szyk Society (1997-2017) and its traveling exhibition program and continues lecturing and speaking about Szyk on university campuses, museums and other venues around the world. Irvin’s memoirs on his life with Arthur Szyk have been accepted by a major university press and will be forthcoming.
Each class is from 7 PM to 8:30 PM ET and will have live closed captions
Behind the Great Art and the Great Message Stands Arthur Szyk, the Great Man
The first lecture in the series will firmly establish Szyk as one of the most popular Jewish artists of his era. He was decorated by the governments of Poland, France, and the United States with medals for both his art and his building of bridges between peoples and among nations. Newspaper and magazine headlines called him: “The Great Artist Arthur Szyk;” “Arthur Szyk, Champion of his People;” “the World-renowned and Genius Arthur Szyk.” Behind all of it stood Arthur Szyk, the Great Man.
The Fabric of America Through the Art of Arthur Szyk
Arthur Szyk loved three countries: Poland, the land of his birth; Israel, the land of his people; and America, the land of his ideals. Upon his immigration to the U.S. in 1940, he announced: “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.” Despite his recognition by the press and military establishment as a citizen-soldier of the free world, Szyk was named as a subversive by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1949. His response: he illuminated the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and Four Freedoms Prayer. In this lecture, you will see a multi-sided America through the eyes of Arthur Szyk.
Injustice Illuminated: The Holocaust Art of Arthur Szyk
As early as 1934, Arthur Szyk told the American press: “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.” Szyk went on to become the most important anti-Nazi artist in America during World War II and the leading artist for the rescue of European Jewry. No one created more activist art to motivate America’s fight against the Nazis than the “soldier in art” himself, and his Holocaust art was more widely reproduced than that of any artist. The Museum’s exhibition The Holocaust: What Hate Can Do has on display several of these drawings and cartoons. Szyk’s 1943 masterpiece De profundis: Cain, where is Abel thy brother? may well be the single most significant contemporary Holocaust work of art on paper. Szyk devoted himself to the dignity of every Jewish soul.
Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah
Arthur Szyk’s Haggadah was not only the most expensive new book in the world upon publication in 1940, but the Times of London deemed it “worthy of being considered among the most beautiful of books ever produced by the hand of man.” Its editor, Cecil Roth declared “To call Arthur Szyk the greatest illuminator since the 16th century is no flattery. It is the simple truth that manifests itself to anyone who studies his work with the care which it deserves.” This study will also demonstrate how Szyk saw Hitler as the new Pharaoh and the Nazis as the new Egyptians who had come to annihilate his people, using an ancient text to deliver a modern message about persecution and freedom. Executed between 1934-1936, Szyk’s visual commentary called for heroism and emigration of Europe’s Jews to Palestine.