Saturday, December 10, 2005


Medieval artists painted illuminated manuscripts by crushing precious stones such as lapis lazuli or malachite into their pigments and working with gold leaf. The result was radiant little miniature paintings, unsurpassed for color and intensity. In the 20th century, an illustrator named Arthur Szyk (1894-1951)carried on the tradition, creating lovely miniature paintings with exquisite skill.

Szyk painted on a tiny scale, with the precision of a watchmaker. For example, the original of the following portrait of Simon Bolivar is a mere 4.25" x 5.75":

Szyk was born in Poland and gained early fame as an illustrator. He mostly painted scenes from history and from the Bible. A gentle, diminutive, bookish man, he moved to America shortly before the outbreak of World War II. However, his 70 year old was mother was hauled away by the Nazis and murdered in a concentration camp. Szyk turned all of his talents to fighting fascism with his art. He created biting caricatures and political cartoons of the Nazis in books and magazines of the day. He was so effective that Hitler put a price on Szyk's head.

Szyk was tireless in his efforts against fascism on behalf of freedom, and became a patriotic American citizen in 1948, illuminating the Declaration of Independence and other American icons...

It is especially ironic then that a few years later, at the height of McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee began investigating Szyk who they suspected of being a member of an organization that they believed served as a "Communist front." The distraught Szyk protested that he was not connected with any Communist organization, but a few months after the investigation began he died of a heart attack at age 57.
Today there is an Arthur Szyk Society that focuses on Szyk's message of freedom, democracy and tolerance.


Anonymous said...

These scans are wonderful, thank you for posting them. I wish they opened up to larger pictures, but clicking on them only brings up a file not found page.

David Apatoff said...

Hmmm... I just realized you're right, Karen. Thanks for your comment. Stop back again and hopefully I'll have figured out how to fix that.

Stephen Worth said...


I did a feature on Szyk on the ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive Project Blog recently. You can find it at...

Stephen Worth
Animation Archive

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, Stephen, I went to your blog and enjoyed it very much. I have the book, The New Order, and it is quite an extraordinary polemic. You don't see many such labors of love these days.

Maysun said...

Thanks for the post, David - and Stephen.

Love the work here.

I really like East European/Russian illustrations - they always seem somehow less sugar-coated - the children's picture books anyway. Have you seen the works of Viktor Kirillov?

theory_of_me said...

Viktor Kirillov? The dead-boring photo-realist painter? Why would anyone want to see that garbage? As a cure for insomnia, maybe.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't say that Polish illustrators shared many 'Eastern European/Russian" style characterics. Certainly not until the fifties. I believe that until then it was fashionable to follow Western trends;. Pre-WWII Poland had a strong European feel to it (to what extent, however, I do not know). Just a thought.

The scans are great, would be even better if they opened up to larger versions...please? Thank You;)

David Apatoff said...

Thanks, bloody chiclitz. I think I've finally fixed those vexing links.

Anonymous said...

My first intro to Szyk's brilliant illustrations was in Andersen's Fairy Tales more than 65 years ago. I still have two copies of the book and I thank you so much for posting these pictures, I will enjoy showing by great-grandson Colin more of his work. Thanks again!

Bridget said...

Hi David,

I came across your website while researching a miniature portrait that I have by Arthur Szyk of Tadeusz Koscinszko, It was found in my great aunt's belongings after she passed a few years ago. I wanted to find out more about it but can't find the exact portrait on the web anywhere. It's an interesting artifact and I'd like to know more about it if you have any information. I can take a photo of it and email it to you if you'd like to see it.

Thank you,