Feliks Topolski

Guardsmen

1907-1989

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Price: £950

Medium: Print

Size without frame: 45 1/4 x 18 inches

Topolski was born on 14 August 1907 in Warsaw, Poland and died in London on 4 August 1989, aged 82. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw before training as an artillery officer. Ater studying in Italy and France he moved to London in 1935 after being commissioned to record King George V’s Silver Jubilee. He opened a studio in Waterloo which later became an exhibition and then a cafe featuring his art. In 1939 the George Bernard Shaw plays ‘In Good King Charles’s Golden Days’ and ‘Geneva’ were published with illustrations by Topolski, bringing his work to a wider audience in the UK. He became an official war artist during the Second World War, painting scenes of the battle of Britain and other battlefields. In 1941 he travelled to Russia alongside the men of Wing RAF aboard RMS Llanstephan Castle which was sailing to Archangel as part of Force Benedict, a mission to provide air support in defence of the port of Murmansk. Topolski travelled as an accredited war artist for both the Polish and British governments. After the war he made a celebrated painting of the first meeting of the United Nations and in 1947 he gained British citizenship.

Topolski’s experiences were initially captured in pencil and ink drawings which appeared in his prolific Chronicles, appearing fortnightly from 1953 to 1979. They were independently published, without advertisements or subsidies. The Chronicles contain 3,000 drawings and were described as “the most brilliant record we have of the contemporary scene as seized by a contemporary mind.”

In 1959, Prince Philip commissioned Topolski to create a mural depicting the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. He painted portraits of most of the luminaries of the day, from Winston Churchill to Bernard Shaw, from Graham Greene to Evelyn Waugh and Harold Macmillan. Between 1975 and his death he worked on a 600 ft mural in a studio in railway arches near London’s South Bank depicting events and people of the 20th century. It opened to the public as a free permanent exhibition called Topolski Century and in 2014 it was re-opened as a café-bar called Topolski, featuring his art. Elected RA in 1989. His son was Dan Topolski who captained and coached Oxford in the Boat Race and who coxed the racing eight in the Olympics.

This poster was one of 500 printed by Selfridges to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.  The idea was later scrapped and most of the 500 posters discarded hence the rarity of this piece.

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