The extensive body of work of artist and illustrator Arthur Szyk will be available in a public institution for the first time, thanks to a $10.1 million gift from Taube Philanthropies to The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life at the University of California, Berkeley.
This gift provides students, scholars, and the public access to the most significant collection of works by Szyk, a Polish Jewish artist and political caricaturist who ultimately settled in the United States in 1940. Szyk used motifs drawn from the Bible, history, politics, and culture to pair extraordinary craftsmanship with insightful commentary on a diverse range of subjects including Judaism, the founding of the State of Israel, the American War of Independence, World War II, and the Holocaust.
The voluminous Szyk collection, now known as the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection, is moving from a private owner to a major university, exposing new generations to a major artist whose work is drawing significant interest in the art world, decades after his death. The Magnes – which holds the third-largest Jewish museum collection in the U.S., and the only one of such size in the world housed at a research university – is particularly well suited to study and showcase Szyk’s work.
“Arthur Szyk operated simultaneously in many countries, cultures, and languages, and he was a refugee for a good part of his life,” said Francesco Spagnolo, curator of The Magnes Collection. “The Magnes is committed to exploring and documenting the cultures of Jews in the global diaspora, and this collection furthers that goal. Our curatorial task – and the academic task of the larger Berkeley community – is to thoroughly examine every aspect of Szyk’s work and place it in proper context.”
Born into a middle-class Polish Jewish family in 1894, Szyk lived a life framed by two world wars, the rise of totalitarianism in Europe, and the birth of the State of Israel, before his death in 1951. Much of his work centered around these historical experiences. Szyk was raised in Poland, educated in France, traveled to the Middle East and North Africa, and lived in London and Canada before moving to New York in 1940, where he met Taube’s family.
While much of Szyk’s art is stylistically reminiscent of medieval and Renaissance traditions, many of his works reflect the social and political unease that gripped the world during his lifetime. A harsh critic of Hitler and Nazi totalitarianism, a number of his most famous pieces portray what Szyk called the “madness” of his times.
The newly acquired collection represents a range of Szyk’s artistic activities, including many of his most valuable works. They include 450 artworks, comprising paintings, drawings, and sketches from across the artist’s lifespan. Accompanying Szyk’s artwork in the collection is a wealth of documents, including books, newspapers, magazines, and other publications that featured the artist’s work.
These partnerships include a portion of the collection being sent on loan to the New York Historical Society for a major exhibition opening in September.