Feliks Topolski R.A.
Extract from Who’s Who entry
Feliks Topolski was born in Warsaw on 14th August 1907 and studied at the Warsaw Academy of Art from 1927-1932.
In 1933, Topolski began the first of a series of journeys around Europe, visiting Austria, Italy, Germany and France. In 1935, he was commissioned to go to Britain to record King George V’s Silver Jubilee. He settled in London, where he remained at the outbreak of war in 1939.
Topolski was widely known as a war artist and chronicler of London’s social and cultural scene. He designed costumes and sets for the plays of George Bernard Shaw for whom he also illustrated many published works.
From 1940, he was an official war artist and joined the first Arctic convoy to Russia in 1941. During the Second World War, Topolski sailed from Britain to Egypt, later visiting the Levant: Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. He travelled onto India, Burma and China and was in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two weeks after its liberation in April 1945, and later attended, and drew, the Nuremberg Trials.
Cavalcade of the Commonwealth was commissioned for the 1951 Festival of Britain. In 1958 Prince Philip commissioned a mural of Elizabeth II’s Coronation for Buckingham Palace. From 1953-1979 the artist published Topolski’s Chronicles, broadsheet drawings of his travels – documenting history as it happened.
Topolski returned to India in 1949-50 at the invitation of the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, recorded Pope Paul VI’s visit to the Holy Land in 1964 and went back to China in 1966 at the start of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. He travelled to America in 1968 and documented the Democratic Convention riots in Chicago, before going to San Francisco to meet members of the Black Panther Party.
Feliks Topolski made face to face portraits of the leading personalities of the 20th century from Gandhi to Shaw, from Churchill to Martin Luther King (and stage and screen giants such as Edith Evans, Alec Guiness and Laurence Olivier). He provided portraits for John Freeman’s 33 ground-breaking ‘Face to Face’ interviews. He also published 24 books of his own including his autobiography ‘Fourteen Letters’.
Topolski received an honorary doctorate from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland in 1974. In 1975 Topolski began work on the painted panorama he called Memoir of the Century, now renamed Topolski Century. He died in London on 24th August 1989.
Topolski’s work is enjoying a fundamental reassessment with new displays at the National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace and the Polish Cultural institute. Interest in the artist has also been resurrected in various museums and galleries that own his paintings and drawings including the V&A, Imperial War Museum, The Tate and The British Museum.