Feliks Topolski’s Century is, in the Polish expressionist’s own words, a ‘memoir’ of the twentieth century. Insightful and political, it is a 600 foot-long mural, under a railway arch on the South Bank, which winds its way around a succession of walls. In 1951, Topolski had a studio on the then largely derelict South Bank, where he had been commissioned to paint for the Festival of Britain. He was given a disused arch nearby, and the Century grew to fill that space. Among the dense and sometimes chaotic swirls of paint, Topolski included in his work first-hand portrayals of Mao, Malcolm Luther King, Mick Jagger and many others. Topolski’s mural opened to the public in 1984, and the artist continued to work on it until his death in 1989. For two decades afterwards it languished in relative obscurity but, after 18 painstaking months of restoration led by conservator Jim Dimond, it reopened in 2009 and today Topolski’s Century provides a highly individual record of the twentieth century, created by an artist who had met many of its leading figures personally.
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