London's Topolski Memoir Saved With HLF Funding

By 24 Hour Museum Staff Published: 22 March 2006

photo of a woman looking at a multicoloured mural

The Memoir will be opened up so that everyone can enjoy it. Courtesy Heritage Lottery Fund

A 180-metre-long (600 feet) installation on London's South Bank showing painter Feliks Topolski's 'Memoir of the 20th Century' will be conserved and opened up thanks to a £1million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Located within two railway arches under Hungerford Bridge, Topolski’s Memoir takes viewers on a journey through a century of history, and includes portraits of Gandhi, Mao, George Bernard Shaw, Martin Luther King and Picasso.

"The Memoir is the only one of its kind," said Sue Bowers, HLF's Manager in London. "It is a reflection of Topolski's own experiences, a personal account of a foreign immigrant to the UK depicted through art.”

“This lottery cash injection will secure the future of the paintings and site for years to come, but also massively improve the visitor experience and open it up to as many people as possible."

The labyrinthine Memoir, which has become one of London’s hidden gems, was painted by Topolski continuously on the site from 1975 until his death in 1989, and is in serious need of conservation.

photo of the artist on a step ladder painting the wall

Feliks Topolski at work. Courtesy Heritage Lottery Fund

A lack of environmental controls and persistent damp problems mean a fifth of all the paintings require urgent attention. In addition, the arches housing it are in need of repair and there is little information for visitors to bring the Memoir's cultural significance to life.

The HLF grant will help restore over half of the paintings, even out floor surfaces and open up the arches to present Memoir as a unique piece of cultural history taking visitors through key events as witnessed by the artist.

"We are absolutely delighted with this award. We have excited a huge number of people with the idea of preserving an important piece of art and a great document of the 20th century,” added Daniel Topolski, the artist’s son. “The work is part of the heritage and the future of the South Bank, and our vision will allow future generations to enjoy it and have their imaginations sparked by it."

photo of a bearded man in front of a section of the mural featuring faces

The Memoir covers the last days of the British Raj to punk. Courtesy Heritage Lottery Fund

New visitor information panels will also be introduced along with exhibition and audio guides that highlight and document particular stories. An adjacent arch has been earmarked as a Learning Resource Centre that will include an exhibition about Topolski and the people he painted together with online access to all of his work and audio visual exploration of key themes.

Lord Moynihan, Chair of the Topolski Memoir Limited, said: "This award is not just a major contribution to the budget we need to undertake this fascinating and important project. It is also a public vote of confidence in what we are aiming to achieve, and should galvanise the extensive support and goodwill to help us find the rest of the money we need."

The project is looking for a further £1.6m from private and charitable sources. It has already had substantial support from the Waterloo Project Board and has been developed in partnership with the South Bank Centre. Network Rail, in whose arches the project is housed, have also backed the project and over £600,000 has already been raised from others.