Feliks Topolski was born in Warsaw on 14th August 1907. The upheavals of the First World War and the uncertainties of post-war Poland provided the backdrop for his childhood. In 1927 he began to study art and became part of Warsaw’s bohemian society.
Topolski was the only child of Edward and Stanisława Topolski. His parents had met through their revolutionary political activities, and Edward, an actor, was in jail for these activities when his son was born. In Topolski Century, Feliks has painted a large portrait of his mother with himself attached to her by an umbilical cord. Topolski’s father is shown smartly dressed, with a stick, as Topolski often glimpsed him walking in the Warsaw streets. Topolski’s maternal grandfather, an Orthodox Jew, is depicted top left, although Topolski was himself brought up in a non-religious environment.
Topolski also depicts himself as a child and as an older man to represent the span of his long life, and incorporates here the honorary doctorate he received from Jagiellonian University in Kraków in 1974.
The First World War began when Topolski was seven. The exhibition includes some of the scenes he witnessed during that period, including drawings of soldiers in Warsaw, as well as a more personal tragedy, Topolski’s accidental shooting of his cousin Zosia.
At the same time, culture in Poland was flourishing and Topolski took full advantage of this. From 1927 to 1932 he studied art at the Warsaw Academy under its Principal, Tadeusz Pruszkowski, a hugely influential father figure in Topolski’s life. Pruszkowski is depicted in the Topolski Century, as well as the actors, artists and writers from the Warsaw café society. Topolski spent idyllic summers painting and making films in the village of Kazimierz on the River Vistula, where Pruszkowski helped establish an artists’ colony.