Arthur Szyk’s diverse world

Arthur Szyk, a Jewish artist born in Poland who achieved fame in France and the U.S., is finally receiving his due with a solo exhibit at the Legion of Honor — 70 years after a show of his watercolors here.

“Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations” is more than an art display. It is like a stroll down historical lanes.   

Beginning with little-known aspects of the American Revolutionary War, the exhibit showcases two decades of news-magazine covers Szyk created for Collier in the 1930s and ’40s.  

Intense representations of World War II and the Holocaust also are featured in the show, which was curated by Karin Breuer and Colleen Terry of the Legion of Honor with contributions from Irvin Ungar of the Arthur Szyk Society in Burlingame.

Some 70 works covering a great range of subjects make up the exhibit, which includes illustrations of traditional Jewish and Polish folk tales and religious texts, and watercolors of political cartoons.

The Polish-American artist, who lived from 1894 to 1951, created remarkable portraits of two important Polish-American soldiers.

A painting of Casimir Pulaski, who became a general in the Continental Army and is credited with saving President George Washington’s life, is memorable. (The soldier died in the Battle of Savannah, becoming one of only five people to be awarded honorary American citizenship posthumously; others who received the honor during their lives were Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.)

Another notable subject is Tadeusz Kosciuszko, a Polish colonel in the Continental Army, eventually promoted by the Continental Congress to the rank of brigadier general.

Szyk’s colorful and intricately detailed work is accompanied by drawings by such giants as Léon Bakst, Aubrey Beardsley and a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer.

Many items on exhibit are small and best appreciated with a close-up view. The museum provides magnifying glasses for inspecting the miniatures.

A section of the show devoted to book illustrations includes “Passover Haggadah” (1940), along with Hans Christian Andersen’s “Fairy Tales” and Chaucer’s “The Canterbury Tales.”

At the end of the chronologically arranged, single-gallery show are drawings for one of Szyk’s last projects, a series of stamp-album covers commissioned upon the founding of the United Nations in 1945.


Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations

California Legion of Honor, Lincoln Park, 100 34th Ave., San Francisco

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays; closes March 27

Tickets: $7.75 to $11.75

Contact: (415) 750-3600,

Arthur SzykartsbooksentertainmentFine Arts

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