Arthur Szyk was a Polish-born Jewish artist who worked primarily as a book illustrator and political artist throughout his career. He was born into a prosperous middle-class Jewish family in Łódź. Showing artistic talent as a child, Szyk’s father sent Szyk to Paris to study at Académie Julian. In Paris, Szyk was exposed to all modern trends in art but he hewed closely to traditional art.
Szyk became a renowned artist and book illustrator as early as the interwar period. His works were exhibited and published not only in Poland but also in France, the United Kingdom, Israel, and the United States.
Szyk’s art became highly political when Adolf Hitler took power in Germany in 1933. He drew caricatures of Hitler as early as 1933. It is significant that his first Hitler caricature was probably a pencil drawing of Hitler dressed as an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Though his family was culturally assimilated, Szyk enjoyed drawing biblical scenes from the Bible. The weaving together of modern politics with biblical themes permeated his work. Szyk’s work is characterized in its material content by social and political commitment, and in its formal aspect by its rejection of modernism and embrace of the traditions of medieval and renaissance painting, especially illuminated manuscripts from those periods.
Szyk gained broad popularity in the United States primarily through his political caricatures, in which, after the outbreak of World War II, he savaged the policies and personalities of the leaders of the Axis powers. After the war, he also devoted himself to Zionist political issues, especially the support of the creation of the state of Israel.