From 1933 until the outbreak of war in 1939, Topolski travelled extensively around Europe. Visits to Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany, as well as a stay in Paris in 1938, were all hugely influential. He eventually decided to settle in London.
In 1933, Topolski began a grand tour of Europe, travelling through a continent where fascism was on the rise. A visit to Paris in 1938 inspired him to plan a book of drawings entitled Paris Scenes and Secrets, in collaboration with the Spanish critic Eugenio d’Ors, but it was never completed. The originals were lost during the war, miraculously reappearing in Berlin in 1963. In the Topolski Century, his portraits of novelist Romain Gary, fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, poet and philosopher Paul Valéry and actor and playwright Sacha Guitry, as well as depictions of prostitutes and their clients, reflect the high and low life of his Paris experiences.
In 1935, Topolski was sent to Britain to record George V’s Silver Jubilee for a Polish newspaper. Both the King and his wife, Queen Mary, appear in the Topolski Century. Topolski settled in London and spent many hours at the Café Royal forming friendships with a bohemian and artistic crowd. In 1938, Topolski met playwright George Bernard Shaw and provided illustrations for three published editions of his plays, including Pygmalion (1941). He also designed stage sets and costumes for Shaw and painted his portrait a number of times. One of these portraits is can be seen here.
Amongst Topolski’s London friends were sculptor Jacob Epstein, writer and critic Cyril Connolly, Labour MP Aneurin Bevan, painter Augustus John and poets Louis MacNeice and Cecil Day Lewis, all of whom are included in the Topolski Century.