1921 - 1932
The Polish-Soviet war ends.
The Polish-Soviet war ends, and Poland retains its independence. The Szyks move to Paris, which remains their home for the next ten years.
David and Saul, executed in Szyk’s elaborate 16th century miniature style, portrays the first King of Israel, Saul, and his young successor, David. Symbols and iconography of ancient Israel feature throughout the image. Each man’s chest is adorned by both a Magen David and a tiny rendition of the tablets of Moses. The Lion of Judah forms the base of David’s lyre. The watercolor technique seen in this work is among the earliest known examples of the style Szyk would make world famous.
Arthur Szyk meets Vladimir Jabotinsky.
Jabotisnky, leader of the Revisionist Zionist movement, was working to establish a Jewish State. The two remained close friends until Jabotinsky’s death in 1940. They shared ideals of an heroic Jewish past and a new Jewish nationalism.
Szyk’s first solo show takes place at Galeries A. Decour in Paris.
Szyk’s first one man exhibition of his miniature paintings are shown in Paris at Galeries A. Decour. The man who became Szyk’s top patron, Harry Glemby (the New York-based hair net manufacturer), purchased all of the works in the exhibition and brought them to the United States.
Some of the miniatures in the exhibition were as small as 1.5 inches across. In his catalogue essay Seymour de Ricci, called Szyk ‘a new Byzantinist’, remarking on the Persian and Slavonic influences seen in the work, as well as that of western European medieval manuscript illuminations.
Arthur Szyk’s Paris exhibition is well received.
His exhibitions were not only popular with the critics, they were also well attended by notable collectors and members of the aristocracy. In this photograph, taken at an exhibition opening, he is seated to the right of Count Schapolsky (c.1928), with Julia Szyk to his left.
Arsène Alexandre, one of the foremost critics in Paris at the time, wrote in Le Figaro that Szyk’s work had a ‘rare originality’ and a ‘delicacy of craftsmanship’. Georges Remon published an extensive article in Le Radical, focusing on Szyk’s style and historical sources.
The exhibition marked a highly successful entry into the Paris art scene, and Szyk’s arrival as an internationally respected artist.
Arthur Szyk travels to Morocco at the invitation of the French Government.
While there he paints the Pasha of Marrakesh’s portrait in miniature. This black and white photograph from Szyk’s personal scrapbook is the only surviving record of this work.
The French Government presents Szyk with the Ordre des Palmes Académiques, a decoration honoring distinguished academics and important figures in culture and education.
The Szyks spend seven weeks in Morocco.
As the guests of the Pasha, they dined with him in his richly decorated palace, which was furnished with antiques and magnificent works of art. The palace was surrounded by extensive gardens filled with rare and exotic plants, birds and animals.
While Szyk worked on the Pasha’s portrait, Julia traveled around the city, even secretly visiting the Pasha’s harem (where Europeans were rarely allowed).
Alexandra Szyk is born.
The Szyk’s two children George (b. 1917) and Alexandra (b. 1922) are shown here in this warm, loving photograph with their mother, Julia Szyk.
Le Livre d’Esther is published.
Arthur Szyk publishes his first full color book: Le Livre d’Esther (Book of Esther), a religious narrative. This illustration from the book features King Ahasuerus on his throne. Mordechai stands to the right of Ahasuerus reading a scroll. The scribe that sits to the King’s left is a self portrait of Szyk.
Not only does the setting of the story (ancient Persia) allow Szyk to explore his interest in Orientalism through rich pattern and color, the theme of the book was one he revisited throughout his career: a celebration of the heroic acts of Jewish people.
Marshal Józef Piłsudski overthrows the democratically elected Polish government.
While it was out of character for Szyk to support an anti-democratic regime, the elected Polish government had been highly prejudiced against its Jewish population. Against a backdrop of anti-Semitic sentiment in his homeland, and ongoing pogroms in nearby Russia, Szyk supported Piłsudski for his stand against this anti-Semitic tide.
La Tentation de Saint Antoine is published.
Published in Spring, 1926, by the Société d’Éditions et de Libraire Henri Raynaud to outstanding reviews. The work used Gustave Flaubert’s text, and featured exquisite reproductions of twenty of Szyk’s illustrations. The original paintings were purchased by Mme Émile Deutsch de la Meurthe, one of the most important art patrons of the time.
Szyk begins work on The Statute of Kalisz.
One of his greatest creations, Szyk’s Statute of Kalisz explores a significant event in Polish history in which Jews were granted civil and religious privileges commencing with the 13th century. Arthur Szyk also emphasized the contributions which Jews had made to Polish society and the mutual and beneficial relationship which existed between Poles and Jews for centuries.
This project was the first time Szyk acted simultaneously as scribe, calligrapher and illustrator.
Szyk illustrates two volumes of Le Juif Qui Rit (The Jew Who Laughs).
Images in this work depict aspects of Jewish daily life as part of Szyk’s desire to present life richly and fully, so as to combat stereotypical ideas about Jews. He was encouraged to undertake these works by humorists Curnonsky and J. W. Bienstock, after they shared tales and stories in the cafés of Paris.
While Szyk’s approach was deliberately light and humorous, some critics felt the work made too much fun of Jews, which it intentionally did. Given his passionate and committed work to support the Jewish plight in the coming years, it is ironic that Szyk took on this project.
Szyk completes The Scribe.
In this work, Szyk positions the scribe between past and present. While he wears Renaissance style clothing, the poem he writes is expressionist, and a Picasso-style painting (designed by Szyk ) hangs on the wall behind him. Like his earlier portrait of his wife, Julia, The Scribe is reminiscent of Renaissance portraits, with the sitter in an interior next to a window. A skull sits on the desk in front of him, a poignant reminder of mortality, and a direct reference to Dutch vanitas still life painting. Outside the window an anachronistic plane flies through the sky and a train hurries past.
While Szyk’s work differed from the avant-garde direction of modern art, he was certainly aware of it. His homage to it, and to previous art periods predates the postmodern approach to art and history by some 20 years.
Le Puits de Jacob (Jacob’s Well) is published.
Szyk produced 12 miniatures and 15 illuminated initials for a deluxe edition of Pierre Benoit’s novel, Le Puit de Jacob (Jacob’s well). While the work was based on bible stories, it was set in modern Europe, and the theme aligned well with Szyk’s Zionist beliefs. He began the project in 1925, and a number of the illustrations were included in his first Paris exhibition.
Szyk begins work on Washington and His Times.
This work was a series of miniature paintings that explored the history of George Washington and the American Revolution. Szyk began this series with deep historical research, which informed the development of each work in the series. He strove to imbue each of the works, and the symbols he used in them, with a rich sense of history and the ideals and values of the time.
The Szyk family.
This warm family photograph shows Arthur and Julia Szyk with their children George and Alexandra. Szyk sits comfortably on the floor with a model airplane, as if caught in the middle of playing with his children. Julia, always elegant and sophisticated, is seated between them.
Arthur Szyk is awarded the Gold Cross of Merit.
The Polish government awarded the Gold Cross of Merit to Arthur Szyk for his services to the field of arts, for his services to propaganda.
Szyk begins work on The Covenant of the League of Nations.
The League of Nations invites the Szyks to visit Geneva. While there, Szyk began work on an illuminated copy of the Covenant. In this work the artist explores historical events, portraits of important individuals, and rich allegorical imagery and symbolism.
The Statute of Kalisz is exhibited in Poland.
For approximately one year, beginning in 1932, the Szyks accompanied the works in The Statute on its tour of Poland to fourteen cities. The Polish government provided resources to support the development of the work through access to historical documents and images. For the government, The Statute tour was a way to demonstrate its support for it’s Jewish citizens, and to affirm Poland as a forward-thinking nation.
The Statute, a great work of liberty and freedom is published in Paris, and printed in 1932, ironically in Munich, one of the most anti-Semitic cities in Germany, one year before Hitler comes to power.
Washington and his Times is completed.
The Battle for Concord Bridge is not only significant for its spirited portrayal of this historic fight. Equally noteworthy is Szyk’s inclusion of an African American among the fallen. The placement of this figure is a stark reminder of the role played by black Americans in the struggle for independence. The work was created at a time when the contribution of black Americans to this struggle was largely unacknowledged.