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BAY AREA & STATE

Magnes museum gets big collection of Jewish art,
thanks to Taube
Sam Whiting | on April 3, 2017

Photo: Courtesy Magnes Collection Of Jewish Art And Life

IMAGE 1 OF 6

“Madness” (1941) is part of the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection acquired by the Magnes Collection of
Jewish Art and Life at UC Berkeley.

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The Magnes Collection at UC Berkeley has made a major acquisition of works by Polish
emigre Arthur Szyk, a book illustrator and political artist who addressed the traumatic
events of Jewish life before, during and after World War II. The museum is announcing
the largest acquisition in its 60-year history on Monday.

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Magnes museum gets big collection of Jewish art, thanks to Taube http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/amp/Magnes-museum-gets-big-...

The acquisition by what is formally called the Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
comes thanks to a $10.1 million donation by Taube Philanthropies, making it the largest
single monetary gift to acquire art in the long history of UC Berkeley.

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The holding to be known as the Taube Family Arthur Szyk Collection was purchased from
collector Rabbi Irvin Ungar of Burlingame. It consists of 450 paintings, drawings and
sketches from all stages of Szyk’s career, including the Holocaust and the establishment of
the State of Israel. Most of the work has never before been publicly displayed.

“It will now be exposed globally through various traveling exhibitions,” said real estate
investor and philanthropist Tad Taube, 86, from his office in Belmont. “I’m convinced that
once it is exposed globally it will be known as one of the great collections of the 20th
century.”

Born in 1894, Szyk (pronounced “shick” ) was drafted into the Russian army and served on
the German front in World War I. It was then, as a foot soldier, that he began illustrating
the suffering of war, his comrades in fur hats and greatcoats, bandaged up and limping
home through the snow.

After the war, Szyk moved to Paris where he had his first solo show in 1922. At the
outbreak of World War II, Szyk, who was Jewish, fled to New York where he published
“The New Order,” one of the first books to satirize fascists, according to the website of the
Arthur Szyk Society.

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It was in New York that Szyk met Taube’s parents, Zygmunt (Zyg) Salo Taube and Lola
Popper Taube, who had also fled Poland. Five years ago, Taube happened to be in Warsaw
during a Szyk exhibit.

“It brought back a lot of memories because he was a person much discussed in my family,”
Taube says. “Not so much as an artist but as a Polish Jew who was able to escape the
ravages of the Holocaust.”

Taube began studying the intricacies of Szyk’s work. “I was interested in the thematic
nature of his art which is heavily oriented toward anti-Nazi depictions,” Taube says. “He
captured all of the important figures of his time in a cartoon format.”

One of these was Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who made the cover of Time
magazine just two weeks after Pearl Harbor. After the war, Szyk worked on issues of
Judaica and put his spin on important moments in American history.

He was still going full bore when he suffered a fatal heart attack in 1951. He was 57.

“He had an ability to present detail in a form that I’ve never seen anybody else do,” says
Taube who has a long history with the Magnes. A Taube Philanthropies donation in 2010
helped the museum convert from a private nonprofit to an asset of UC Berkeley. With that
transfer came 15,000 items, making it the third-largest Jewish museum collection in the
United States, before the arrival of the Szyk work.

“This is the single largest contribution in the 60-year history of the Magnes,” says
Francesco Spagnolo, curator of the Magnes Collection. “It expands the collection
exponentially because of the global reach and contemporary relevance of Arthur Szyk’s
work.”

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Spagnolo predicts the first major exhibition of the collection at the Magnes will be next
year, but in the meantime, pieces of the collection will be at the New York Historical
Society in September.

Sam Whiting is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: swhiting@sfchronicle.com
Instagram: @sfchronicle_art

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