Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Arthur Szyk: Miniature Paintings & Modern Illuminations

During our recent visit to the San Francisco Fine Art Museum at the Legion of Honor in Lincoln Park for the Pulp Fashion exhibition, we found this wonderful small, one room exhibit of the Miniature Paintings and Modern Illuminations of Albert Szyk. WOW! 
Meticulously composed and executed illuminated quotation, typical of Szyk's work.
Polish born Szyk (1894-1951) was an artist and illustrator whose work ranged from fantasy to fantastic. He illustrated many books, including Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales (1945) and Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (1946), and was an active contributor to Colliers magazine during his career. Possibly Szyk's greatest artwork is his renowned Passover Haggadah (1940), which is included in the exhibit.
The King and Queen of Roses from Andersen's Fairy Tales
Frontispiece design for The Canterbury Tales
Design original for the Knight in The Canterbury Tales

He was also a poignant political satirist, publishing numerous anti-Nazi cartoons during WWII.
This is the famous Historic Poker Game, which was the cover for the November 1, 1941, issue of Colliers magazine.
Note the detail of the cards. The advantage in this deadly poker game belongs to Stalin, who holds in his hand two aces with the shields of the USA and Britain, which will beat the jokers in Hitler's hand which are his three main allies. Death observes the game with particular interest.
Szyk worked in a number of mediums, but primarily in pen and ink,  as well as porchoir and watercolor. His true distinction was his attention to detail, the fine granularity of his compositions and the bright colors of his work. His illuminations are as beautiful and flamboyant as the texts done by medieval monks. As shown above, even his political cartoons included intricate details that were part of the message.
One of Szyk's last commissions was a series of stamp album covers commemorating the founding of the United Nations in 1945.
Each country in the UN series included both historical and cultural images. Szyk completed only nine countries for this project prior to his death in 1951.
This exhibition is set to end on March 27th, so get there ASAP.

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