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Punks, Princes and Protests: the Chronicles of Feliks Topolski RA

Continuing the work of the Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange

Polish Social and Cultural Association Gallery
June 20,2023 - July 20,2023
Feliks Topolski

June 20, 2023 July 20, 2023


  • Topolski Studio on the Southbank opening on 2 May,
  • POSK Gallery in Hammersmith opening on 20th July

Continuing the work of the Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange cultural programming forum, research hub and virtual museum project that launched in October 2022

A treasure trove of works created by the renowned Anglo-Polish artist Feliks Topolski RA (1907-1989 has gone on public display for the first time in his original studio on the Southbank this May ahead of the  Coronation of King Charles III. It doubles as a unique opportunity to visit Topolski’s iconic Studio – where he created some of his most significant works – having now reopened to the public for the first time  since his death in 1989. 

The exhibition explores the artist’s heritage, connections to the British Royal Family, and his  commitment to the art of eyewitness impartial reportage. In doing so it showcases how Topolski’s identity and art seamlessly oscillated between the Establishment and Counter-Culture, taking equal  interest in depicting and socialising with high society and London’s underbelly. 

Feliks Topolski was born in Warsaw in 1907 and moved to Britain in 1935. He became an official war  artist, a friend of Prince Philip, a bohemian and socialite, all the while documenting the diversity of life  from an objective viewpoint. From punks and hippies to royalty and politics, Topolski observed and lived  at the centre of a new multi-cultural and contradictory Britain trying to form itself, whilst his globetrotting  lifestyle documented the collapse of the Empire and the emergence of the Commonwealth. Later  serving as a witness in the Oz obscenity trial in defence of the freedom of expression, Topolski was  committed to untrammelled public art, a driving principle of his work.

The exhibition continues the work of the Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange which  celebrates the contribution of the Polish diaspora, one of the largest community groups in the country,  to British culture and society. This was started by Britain’s largest Polish community organization – the  Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK), also known as the Polish Centre, and is delivered  in partnership with two foremost Anglo-Polish organisations – namely the Polish Cultural Institute in  London (PCI) and Ognisko Polskie (Polish Hearth). It is part of new POSK Chairman Dr Marek  Laskiewicz’s aspiration to look outwards by means of a new cultural offer about our shared Anglo-Polish  culture and history aimed at Britain’s diverse audiences. 

The show is curated by art historian and Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange Curator Dr Julia Griffin and  historian Lucien Topolski, Director of the Topolski Memoir charity and Feliks Topolski’s grandson. Following the launch at Topolski Studio on the Southbank on 2 May, the exhibition will then move to  POSK Gallery in Hammersmith opening on 20th July.  

It includes several original artworks which have not previously been on public display including drawings  of the Funeral of King George VI (1952), Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953), a portrait of Princess  Diana entitled The Welsh Guards and the Princess of Wales (1988), a unique and informal likeness of  Prince Charles at Polo Practice (1979), unseen drawings and a painting of London Punks (1985). 

Following a commission to record King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 the artist settled in London,  enchanted by the city’s “exotic otherness”. Feliks became a lifelong friend of Prince Philip, attending his wedding to Queen Elizabeth II and documenting the occasion for Vogue

The occasion of Charles III’s coronation marks 70 years since Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953,  which Topolski was commissioned by the British Government to record. This event became the impetus  for him to start Topolski’s Chronicle, Feliks’ own hand-printed broadsheet published from 1953 to  1979 as an independent newspaper committed to raising the status of reportage drawing and making  his art available to all. By observing the changing currents of British history between these two events,  Punks, Princes and Protests: the Chronicles of Feliks Topolski RA, centres on the Chronicle to  reflect upon Topolski’s historical and culturally resonant insights from the past century, whilst exploring  the artist’s connections to the Royal Family. 

The Chronicle went on to include pictorial reportage of royal visits to Portugal (1957) and North America  (USA and Canada, 1957), as well as receptions in honour of the Queen in Commonwealth countries  such as Ghana (1962). He also depicted other Royal Weddings in addition to producing Royal Portraits  of Prince Philip (1965) and The Princess of Wales (1988). 

The broadsheet was published twice a month, and circulated amongst over 2000 subscribers around  the world, both private and institutional. Inside these editions, Topolski provided personal, yet broadly  observational view of an astonishing range of last century’s important political and cultural personalities,  events, places, and movements; Malcolm X in London, Huey Newton’s imprisonment, Nigerian royalty  in pre-independence West Africa, speaker’s corner, and Louis Armstrong playing in London. 

The Studio will soon re-launch as the Topolski Reportage Studio, featuring a changing exhibitions  programme and artist residencies championing the art of reportage. It will be simultaneously reviving a  new quarterly lithographic print Chronicle showcasing Feliks’ work, including high-quality reproductions  of drawings and painted works, that resonate with our current period, many of which previously unseen.  It will be printed in-house at the Studio and distributed to subscribers, with the goal of growing to include commissions from international contemporary reportage artists and writers to achieve the same ‘round  the world’ viewpoint that originally motivated Feliks.  

The artist created the largest mural for the Festival of Britain which was displayed around the corner  from his Studio under Hungerford Bridge, and chose a neighbouring arch for the public display of his  Magnum Opus, the ‘Memoir of the Century’ – a 3D immersive painting art installation that grew out of  the Chronicles, also originally printed on the Southbank. Topolski viewed the ‘Memoir of the Century’  as his pictorial autobiography drawn against the backdrop of key historical events of the past century  to which he bore witness.  

To coincide with the exhibition launch both the Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange and the Topolski Memoir charity will be launching fundraising appeals, to help with their ambitious development plans. 

Dr Marek Laskiewicz, POSK Chairman said: ‘As the new POSK Chair, my vision is that POSK  presents Polish culture and contribution to the UK, and welcomes everyone.” 

Elvira Olbrich, POSK Arts Director and Honorary Exchange Director said: ‘It was a true privilege to be part of this fantastic new exhibition of works by the inimitable Feliks Topolski, which was initiated  by POSK.’ 

Dr Julia Griffin, exhibition co-curator said: ‘Feliks Topolski is a British cultural icon, an artistic genius of international stature, and the best Anglo-Polish ambassador; his innovative output retains remarkable cultural relevance today. It is a great privilege for me to be able to work together with Lucien on reviving  Feliks’s legacy and bringing him back into public memory.’ 

Lucien Topolski, exhibition co-curator said: ‘I am excited to showcase Feliks’ artwork to both new  audiences and old, highlighting his life and career as omnipresent visual chronicler of the 20th century, by opening his original studio to the public for the first time with this dedicated exhibition. The future of  the charity and Studio space holds a lot of activities and events that are in the pipeline, which we’re  excited to continue to share.’ 

Marta de Zuniga, Director of the Polish Cultural Institute said: “Feliks Topolski was born in Poland and  came to England in 1935. He quickly became part of London’s artistic microcosm and established  himself as prolific painter and illustrator with a special gift for passionately chronicling the world around  him. He is an artist who is unfairly forgotten here in England and not yet discovered in Poland and I  hope this exhibition will initiate a series of events dedicated to bringing his oeuvre to the spotlight.” 

The Granville-Skarbek Anglo-Polish Cultural Exchange is grateful to Souvenir Scenic Studios for  creating exhibition build for the project: https://www.souvenir.co.uk/about