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Book Notes: Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole, Joseph Ansell

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Arthur Szyk: Artist, Jew, Pole, Joseph Ansell (Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization 2004) isbn 1-874774-94-3, pp. 334, 39 colour plates, £29.95 Arthur Szyk (1894-1951) is best known to Jews for his illustrated Haggadah, but he was a successful and prolific artist, and of great impor tance as a political cartoonist in the United States during and after the Second World War. Joseph Ansell's biography tackles an immensely diffi cult task with great skill. Szyk was born and grew up in Lodz where his father was a prosperous textile manufacturer. He trained as an artist in Paris and Krakow, served in the Russian army in the First World War and then as a lieutenant in the Polish army during Poland's successful war against the Soviet Union of 1919-20. After this he migrated to Paris. Despite his Parisian training his artistic style owes nothing to the Impressionists or to the painterly tradition of modern European represen tational art. His style is rooted in medieval European, Byzantine and Persian miniature-painting, with flat perspectives, detailed linear drawing and striking colours. Politically Szyk was a Polish patriot as well as a proud Jew and Zionist. Throughout his career he used art to transmit the political messages closest to his heart. In Paris he published an illuminated edition of the Statute of Kalis in Latin and French. Re-issuing Kasimir the Great's charter to the Jews of Poland of 1364 was not only a commercial venture and a demonstration of Szyk's art as an illuminator and loyalty as an expatriate Polish patriot, but gave the Polish government a gentle lesson in the virtues of toleration. The style was deliberately medieval, but with a mannerist elongation of Kasimir's image. This was followed by an illuminated edition of the Rubayat of Omar Khayyam with Persian overtones. In 1937 he moved to London and prepared his illuminated and illustrated Haggadah, which was published in a de-luxe limited edition in 1940, with an English text by Cecil Roth. They planned to publish an illustrated history of the Jews in England, but when Roth's History ofthe fem in England appeared it was not illustrated. In July 1940, after the defeat of France, Arthur Szyk and his family moved to Canada, it is said at the request of the Ministry of Information 255</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes and of the Polish Government in Exile, to campaign as a political cartoonist against American neutrality. His son joined General de Gaulle's Free French army. From Canada he moved to the United States, where he soon established himself as one of the most productive and widely followed polit ical cartoonists. In the postwar period he became a fervent supporter of Menahem Begin's Irgun Zvai Leumi and, like Begin, was hostile to Britain. Joseph Ansell's biography is adorned with coloured illustrations of high quality, but these show only a small part of Szyk's vast output. The book is a well-written introduction to the career of a remarkable man and artist. Edgar Samuel 256</page></plain_text>