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Visual History of Poland (Signed)
FINE ART PRINTS. New York, 1946. First edition lithograph celebrates centuries of Polish history and culture. From the Visual History of Nations series.
A large white eagle on a red background, the national arms of Poland, dominates the top of Arthur Szyk’s colorful Visual History. Above its head there would be a gold crown symbolizing the country’s autonomy. Since Poland was under Communist control when this illumination was created, the crown was omitted.
Twelve coats of arms adorn the sides and center of the illustration. They represent Polish voivodeships§ — administrative areas ranging in scale from a city to several counties. Some bear testimony to Poland’s past. On the left, the white eagle designates Poznań, a region sometimes called the birthplace of Poland. Below are the stars and stripes of Sandomir, an area where human artefacts dating to Neolithic times are found. The bull on a checkered background stands for Kalisz, which contains one of Poland’s oldest cities.
The General Charter of Jewish Liberties (the Statute of Kalisz) was issued in 1264 in Kalisz. It granted Jews extensive civil and religious privileges. The region of Silesia (represented bottom left) bore witness to Auschwitz and the Gross-Rosen concentration camp (the latter housed Oskar Schindler’s Bruennlitz subcamp). The province of Brzeg (the quartered arms to the right) contained an airfield from which Nazi aircraft took off in the September 1939 invasion of Poland, ostensibly motivated by Germany’s demand to annex Gdańsk, represented on the right between Chopin and Pulaski.
Other arms signify regions that have found themselves in the crosshairs of other nations’ interests. Royal Prussia (bottom right) was an early part of the independent state of Poland, and was absorbed by Prussia during the partitions of the 18th century. For hundreds of years the people of Dobrzyń Land (top right) have stood for Polish independence against Swedes, Saxons, Russians, and Germans.
Men in portraiture are known for supporting independence as well. Casimir Pulaski (1745–1799) was a leader of the Bar Confederation, which fought for Polish-Lithuanian independence. He brought his knowledge of guerrilla warfare across the Atlantic to form the Pulaski Legion during the Revolutionary War. Thaddeus Kościuszko (1746–1817) also participated in that war, and after returning to Poland he led a national uprising against the second partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. (Poland’s existence as a sovereign state ceased after the third partition, and was not regained until after World War I in 1918.)
Polish influences on the arts and sciences are also featured in this illustration. Frederick Chopin (1810–1849), known for his piano compositions, grew up and composed many of his works in Warsaw (whose coat of arms — a mermaid holding a shield — is visible under the word ‘Poland’). Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543) hailed from Royal Prussia. His On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres revolutionized human understanding of the Earth’s place in the universe.
The miner (shown on the left) and the peasant in Polish national costume (on the right) represent the hardy and enduring Polish labor force.
§Special thanks to David F. Phillips and Alfred Znamierowski for their invaluable assistance in identifying these coats of arms.
Visual History of Poland [Visual History of Nations series]. First edition lithograph. New York, 1946. Publisher: K. Bileski; Printer: Herman Jaffe. Image measures: 6½ inches x 8 inches. Sheet measures: 10 inches x 11½ inches. Fine condition.
Note: The left margin of this lithograph is wider than the right. All lithographs in the Visual History of Nations series were printed in this fashion, as they were commissioned as frontispieces for bound stamp albums. A wider margin on the edge closest to the binding allows both margins to appear equal when matted.
Publishing History: Arthur Szyk’s Visual History of Nations series consists of highly illuminated and brilliantly designed visual histories of individual founding and member countries of the United Nations. This series of images was commissioned in 1945 by Canadian philatelist and entrepreneur Kasimir Bileski and was originally referred to as The United Nations Series. Each print was created as an exquisite frontispiece and title page for a unique international stamp album. All images reflect the artistic genius of the 20th century’s greatest miniaturist illuminator and painter.
Of the approximately 60 colorful and highly detailed images commissioned by Bileski, only nine countries were completed (plus the History of Flight) and printed prior to Szyk’s sudden death in 1951.
Identification of the Graphics and Symbols of The Visual History of Poland (see below for key):
1. National arms of Poland*
2. Coat of arms of Poznań
3. Coat of arms of Sandomir
4. Copernicus, the 16th century Polish astronomer.
5. Coat of arms of Kalisz
6. Kościusko, the Polish patriot
7. Coat of arms of Silesia
8. Coat of arms of Dobrzyń Land
9. Coat of arms of Brzeg
10. Chopin, the famous 19th century composer
11. Coat of arms of Gdańsk
12. Pulaski, who fought in the American Revolutionary War
13. Coat of arms of Royal Prussia
14. Coat of arms of Warsaw
15. A Polish miner
16. A Polish peasant
17. Coat of arms of Pomerania
18. Coats of arms; regions undetermined
* When Poland is autonomous, a crown is placed over the head of the eagle. When under the domination of another country, the crown is removed. At the time this painting was created, the Soviet Union controlled Poland.