Cavalcade of the Commonwealth
In 1950, Topolski was commissioned by Gerald Barry, director of the Festival of Britain, to paint a large scale mural — ‘The Cavalcade of the Commonwealth’ for the Festival the following year. The mural was installed in the open arch of Hungerford Railway Bridge on Belvedere Road, just around the corner from where you are now standing.
It was then displayed in Singapore for ten years and, after its return to Britain, most of the painting was remounted here within the Century. These sections reflect events and people Topolski had witnessed on his travels in Africa, Burma, Malaya (Malaysia), India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Hong Kong. In Malaya, Topolski shows the British High Commissioner, Sir Henry Gurney, in his ceremonial uniform. He also reflects his own expedition to the jungles of Sarawak in 1950 with explorer and anthropologist Tom Harrisson. India is symbolised by the Nizam of Hyderabad and the Maharaja of Mysore. 1950s Britain is represented by bowler hats, Cockney ladies, a judge and a group of paparazzi.
In 1953, Topolski began to publish his fortnightly Chronicle which contained the raw material, in the form of more than 2000 drawings, which were the inspiration for many of the images in the Century. The Chronicle was sent out to a wide circle of subscribers who included Topolski’s friends, acquaintances, fellow artists and art students.
Topolski described the Chronicle as a broadsheet which embraced ‘a large slice of global history, every line drawn “on the spot” and never touched up.’