Frequently Asked Questions


What is the Memoir and what is its significance?

The Memoir of the Century is a unique, monumental work of art that presents an extraordinary panoramic record of key events and figures of the twentieth century.  Six hundred feet long and between twelve and twenty feet high this labyrinthine installation exists as a testimony to some of the most significant moments and characters that shaped the twentieth century as witnessed by the artist Feliks Topolski (1907 – 1989).

Begun in 1975 and opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh in 1984 the Memoir depicts, through figuration and abstraction, an extraordinary array of portraits including: Nehru, Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten, George Bernard Shaw, Picasso, General de Gaulle, Martin Luther King, Enoch Powell, Nye Bevan and Laurence Olivier, among 700 other leading figures of the 20th Century.

These derive from Topolski’s own personal experience, initially captured in pencil and ink drawings, which he produced throughout his life and published in Topolski’s Chronicle.

Topolski was widely known as a war artist and chronicler of London’s social and cultural scene.  He designed costumes and sets for the plays of George Bernard Shaw, for whom he also illustrated many published works.  He provided portraits for John Freeman’s 33 ground-breaking ‘Face to Face’ interviews.  He also published 24 books of his own, including his autobiography ‘Fourteen Letters’.

Topolski’s work is enjoying a fundamental reassessment with new displays at the National Portrait Gallery, Buckingham Palace and the Polish Cultural institute.  Interest in the artist has also been resurrected in various museums and galleries that own his paintings and drawings, including the V & A, Imperial War Museum, The Tate and The British Museum.

In an era saturated by media coverage of war and world events, Topolski’s eye witness account of the twentieth century carries a pertinence and energy that few other historical sources of this period offer.  Mark Lawson, reviewing Topolski on BBC’s Front Row said that when comparing TV pictures (of the same events) with Topolski’s paintings, “Topolski comes off terribly well.  He makes the case for art.”

Topolski’s concept of the artist as a figure concerned more with public than with private life holds a resonance with contemporary museum and gallery audiences keen to re-engage with history through personal memory and witness accounts.

2.  Who owns the Memoir? Why has it fallen into disrepair and why don’t they pay for the restoration?

The Memoir is owned by the South Bank Centre.  The Centre faces many competing challenges for its funding and cannot respond to its large range of responsibilities.  Its current focus is a major refurbishment of the Royal Festival Hall.  The Centre is playing a key role in supporting and assisting the Topolski Memoir Appeal.  It cannot, however, fund the required costs of restoring, refurbishing and re-presenting the Memoir to the public.

3.  How many people visit the Memoir?  How will this number change?

Over 20,000 visitors currently enjoy free entry to the Memoir each year despite limited opening hours, little publicity and the urgent need for better interpretation and presentation.  The business plan for the Memoir estimates that it will attract 15,000 paying visitors a year rising to 27,000 in 5 -10 years.  This compares well with other similar attractions.

4.  How does the Memoir contribute to the South Bank area?

Topolski was the first artist to establish a studio on the South Bank at the time of the Festival of Britain, 53 years ago. The restoration of the Memoir and Topolski’s studio will provide a key attraction which will help animate the new Festival Square which is being developed to the rear of the Royal Festival Hall.


5.  Who is leading the project to restore the Memoir?

The Topolski Memoir has drawn together a highly experienced, dedicated team to lead this project and secure the future of the Memoir and studio.


Lord Moynihan - CMA Group - Chairman

Alex Attewell – Florence Nightingale Museum

Alan Borg – formerly Imperial War Museum

Mike McCart – South Bank Board Ltd

Patricia Moberly – Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Trust

Olga Polizzi – Rocco Forte Hotels

Lord Razzall – Argonaut Associates

Lynton Richmond – KPMG

Daniel Topolski

Teresa Topolski


Company Secretary

Jane Hellings – ABL Cultural Consulting

6.   What specialists are you involving in the project?

The Memoir has drawn together a specialist team of architects, designers, curators, conservationists and financial advisors who are, together, developing detailed plans for the restoration, presentation and interpretation of the Memoir. 

Levitt Bernstein architects - Axel Burrough

Casson Mann museum designers - Dinah Casson

Curatorial Consultant - Dr Victoria Walsh

Conservationist - Ruth Bubb

Quantity Surveyors – Davis, Langdon, Everest

Museum Advisors – Museum of London

Financial Advisors – KPMG, Shell plc

7.   How much will the project cost?

The total cost of the project is £3.1 million.   The Appeal aims to raise £1.5 million from public sources and £1.6 million from individuals, trusts, foundations and companies.

8.   What is the contingency fund? 

The Memoir re-development is being carefully planned and monitored.  Shell plc is providing pro-bono financial advisors.  A 10% contingency fund has been included in the project costs.

9.   What will happen if you do not secure public funding?

The scope of the work will be reduced and the speed of the restoration and conservation work will be slowed down and completed over a longer period.

10.  How will you raise revenue funds to keep the Memoir open in the future?

The Memoir will generate revenue through ticket sales. It will receive a subsidy from the South Bank and will attract support from Trusts, Foundations, companies and individual supporters for specific projects – including exhibitions, education and conservation work.

11.   Who else has given?

To date £2.65 million has been raised.  The Waterloo Project Board has given £350,000 to the project and Publisher Felix Dennis is funding two curatorial posts.   The South Bank Centre is providing support totalling £50,000 per annum.  The Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2006 made a grant of £1million pounds and this has to be matched from other sources by the appeal.

12.   When will work begin?

Structural building work on the Memoir has begun in 2008 and the Memoir will reopen in 2009.  .



For further information, please contact: Topolski Memoir Ltd, c/o ABL Cultural Consulting, 31 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4ER


The Topolski Memoir is a registered charity no 1103516

Return to Appeal Plans for Feliks Topolski RA's Memoir

All Topolski images Copyright © Feliks Topolski estate