Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Feliks Topolski (1907-1989) traveled the world, illustrating the great places and events of his day.

Born in Poland, Topolski set out for adventure at an early age. He made his way to Britain, the US, the Middle East, Canada, Ireland, France, India, Australia, Italy, Argentina, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Germany, Brazil and Portugal. Wherever he went, he kept a visual diary of the things he witnessed. His drawings of exotic street bazaars, ancient temples and crowded cities were collected in highly popular books.

During World War II, Topolski became famous as one of the great war illustrators, working on the front lines in Russia, China, Burma, India, Palestine, Africa, Egypt, Syria and Italy. He was in London to record the Battle of Britain, and in Germany to record the collapse of the Nazi regime. He witnessed first hand the freeing of the concentration camps. Here is a wonderful detail of looters making off with plunder in the streets of Bergen:

Here is an excellent drawing of Jordanian soldiers standing guard:

He drew portraits of world leaders such as Gandhi, Winston Churchill and Bertrand Russell

One thing I particularly like about Topolski is the care he devoted to drawing people who were standing around waiting aimlessly.

Traveling under primitive wartime conditions, Topolski saw a lot of people sitting around waiting; waiting for food, waiting because transportation broke down, waiting for visas, waiting in prison camp yards... progress had come to a halt, and it seemed like most of the world spent most of its time waiting in lines.

Rather than succumb to mind numbing boredom, Topolski found the inspiration to take out his pencil and draw the people sitting around. He made thousands of drawings of such groups all around the world, but you can tell from the following examples that Topolski remained alert and observant, shrewdly capturing in line the identity and characteristics of each group.

The posture and clothing of the Russian soldiers in their thick coats look entirely different from the displaced persons, who look entirely different from the German POWs.

Those who see with the eyes of an artist, whose hand itches to draw, find opportunities for excellence even when surrounded by tedium.


Li-An said...

Great Art. I did not knew him and his work and I like the life in it.

Mats Halldin said...

Lovely article, incredible drawings,
I never heard of Topoloski, thanks a lot for posting this.

/ Mats

neil said...

great post.

Kagan M. said...

Thanks for this, it's great

Matt Jones said...

Excellent-Topolski was so good-there's a wonderful, walk-through standing exhibition under the arches of Waterloo Bridgein London. Incredible space with every surface covered by the man's drawings & paintings.
It's undergoing renovation for a renewed opening I believe.

glassbox said...

thanks for posting so many images of Topoloski's work.

David Apatoff said...

Thank you li-an, mats, neil, kagan and glassbox. Topolski was a strong illustrator with a distinctive style. I'm glad you enjoy his images the way I do; I think we can stil learn a lot from him.

Matt J, I didn't know about the Waterloo bridge exhibiton but the next time I am in London I will seek it out. Thanks!

Matt Jones said...

Hungerford Bridge-my bad!

chuck pyle said...

brilliant loose evocations of the moment. Thanks for bring Topolski back to the foreground. Got a bibliogarphy so I might find some these books?

jonthanfryer said...

David, you may be interested to know that I am curently writing the authorised biography of Feliks Topolski, scheduled for publication in 2009, to coincide with major retrospective exhibitions in London and Warsaw. The 'Memoir' and studio near Waterlook station are both currently undergoing refurbishment. Jonathan Fryer (jonathanfryer@hotmail.com)

Li-An said...

Great news ! I hope it won't be too expensive :-)

Anonymous said...

Abbott and Holder Ltd, the Bloomsbury Picture Dealers will be holding a selling Exhibition of twenty-three of his Thirties drawings of Paris Life from Saturday 5th July-31st July 2008.
Lost during the War and only recovered by the artist in the 1960s the story of the drawings themselves is remarkable. The exhibition will also be visible at www.abbottandholder.co.uk from 12th June.
30 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LH
Philip Athill at e.mail abbott.holder@virgin.net for further information