Arthur Szyk (1894 – 1951)


Arthur Szyk (pronounced shick), is world renowned as one of the foremost manuscript illuminators of modern times. Born in Lodz, Poland, Szyk began painting at the age of four and held an exhibition of his art while still in school. His family, a historic Jewish family of scholars, sent the then 15-year-old artist to Paris to study at the famed Julian Academy. Asked why, after two years of fine art study, he decided to specialize in the ancient art of manuscript illumination, Szyk said: It was born as a habit of always looking for the hard way to do things.


The purpose of illumination was both practical and aesthetic. In times when few people could read, the detailed illustrations served to convey stories and themes reflecting the culture and spirit of the times. The art of illumination dates back to the days of the pharaohs of Egypt and was also found in Oriental, Hebrew, Moslem and Christian cultures.


As a soldier in World War I, and a decorated hero of Polish forces in the battle against the Germans, Szyk developed a hatred for war and the forces of tyranny. The loathing for tyranny is reflected in his biting graphic and stylized cartoons and caricatures of Hitler and the Nazis. Szyk arrived in America in 1940, where his colorful anti-nazi cartoons found a ready audience in such leading magazines as Esquire and Colliers. These striking images were so damaging to the Nazi cause that Hitler personally ordered the death of Szyk’s mother.


Today Szyk’s paintings are found in museums throughout the world, including Paris, London and New York. His works are part of private collections in Windsor Castle and the Roosevelt Museum in Hyde Park.


Among his most famous works are: The Haggadah, Book of Esther, Song of Songs, the Statue of Kalisz, Washington and his Times, Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tales, a series of colorfully painted miniatures depicting Simon Bolivar and the portrait of the Pasha of Marrakesh (Morroco).


In the early 1990’s a lost treasure trove of Szyk’s work was discovered. The stock of lithographs, printed by eminent master printers Arthur Jaffee and Herman Jaffee, were commissioned by renowned Canadian stamp dealer Kasimir Bileski. Bileski commissioned Szyk to create 60 unique cover pages for an international stamp book… but Szyk died after only nine were completed.


Bileski, distraught at Szyk’s death and the end to his project, put the prints into storage where they remained, virtually untouched, for almost half a century.


These unique prints are now available through this website.