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Museum gotta see ‘um
February 28, 2014, 05:00 AM By Susan Cohn Daily Journal

The Arthur Szyk Society
ARTHUR SZYK AND THE ART OF THE HAGGADAH. Arthur Szyk, The Family at the Seder, 1936. Watercolor and gouache on paper. All 48 original paintings of Szyk’s 1940 Haggadah series are on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco through June 29.

ARTHUR SZYK AND THE ART OF THE HAGGADAH, AT THE CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM. “I am resolved to serve my people with all my art, with all my talent, with all my knowledge.” With these words, spoken in 1934 as Hitler was ascending to power, Polish-born Jewish artist and political cartoonist Arthur Szyk (1894–1951) set out to create the most important work of his life, his illustrated Haggadah.

The haggadah (Hebrew for “the telling”) is called the great book of freedom, recounting the story of the exodus of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. This text, used during the ritual Passover meal, the seder, has been illustrated by countless artists since the Middle Ages. MOre than 5,000 versions have been printed since the invention of the printing press, making it the most published Jewish book in history.

But Szyk’s Haggadah was unique. Keenly aware of current events, Szyk drew striking parallels between the Jews’ plight in Egypt and the threat of a rising Nazi power. Adopting the ancient techniques of Medieval illuminated manuscripts, Szyk created a powerful visual commentary on the politics of his day.

Now, for the first time in more than 60 years, all 48 original paintings from Szyk’s masterpiece are on view in The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibition Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah. The exhibition features Szyk’s miniatures on paper as well as diverse examples of important historical and contemporary haggadot.

Contemporary Jewish Museum Executive Director Lori Starr said: “The Szyk Haggadah is a powerful and enduring testament to hope and courage. Reproductions have been a mainstay in Jewish homes since the 20th century, but they do not compare with the remarkable, original paintings. We are really thrilled to be able to share these with the public for the first time in decades.”

ABOUT THE ARTIST. Arthur Szyk (pronounced “Shick”) was born into a well-to-do Jewish family in Lodz in 1894, in the part of Poland that was under Russian rule in the 19th century. In 1898, at age four, he started drawing portraits of guests in his parents’ home. After studying painting in Paris and visiting Palestine in 1914, he was drafted into the czar’s army in World War I but deserted. Later, he fought against the Soviets under the legendary Polish Marshall Josef Pilsudski. For most of the 1920s and 30s Szyk lived and worked in France and Poland, moving to the United Kingdom in 1937. In 1940, he settled permanently in the United States, where he was granted American citizenship in 1948.

Szyk became a renowned graphic artist and book illustrator as early as the interwar period—his works were exhibited and published widely. However, he gained greater popularity due to his war caricatures, in which, after the outbreak of World War II, he depicted the leaders of the Axis powers (Germany, Italy and Japan) as grotesque caricatures of greed and evil. A self-described “soldier in art,” his ferocious depictions of the Axis leaders soon graced the covers of such popular periodicals as Time, Colliers, The New York Times and Chicago Sun.

CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSEUM PARTICULARS. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission St. (between Third and Fourth streets), San Francisco. For information about family programs and art classes or general information about the Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit or call (415) 655-7800. Arthur Szyk and the Art of the Haggadah is on view through June 29.


HIDDEN TREASURES IN FULL VIEW: FLOWERS AND LANDSCAPES BY YVONNE NEWHOUSE AT FOSTER CITY ART GALLERY. Watercolor painter Yvonne Newhouse brings attention to nature’s hidden treasures in a solo exhibit at the Foster City Art Gallery through April 11 with a reception 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 8. An avid hiker both on Bay Area trails and in the Sierra Nevada backcountry, Newhouse has witnessed and recorded many vistas, some of which are painted using transparent watercolor. Also included in the show are local flowers painted with the same sense of adventure. The exhibit and reception are free and open to the public. Foster City Art Gallery is located in the Recreation Center lobby at 650 Shell Blvd. Gallery hours are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. Friday and Saturday For more information call 286-3380.

Susan Cohn can be reached at or



Tags: jewish, contemporary, haggadah, arthur, museum, gallery,

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