Todays post comes to you courtesy of Associate Librarian, Dr. Nicolae Harsanyi. Dr. Harsanyi, a native of Romania, is a scholar with expertise in Eastern European politics and history. He was asked by the museum to work on an installation of original drawings by Polish artist Feliks Topolski that opened a couple of days ago because he is not only fluent in Russian, but is particularly knowledgeable about the history of the Soviet Union and its relations with its near neighbors. Topolski was living in England when the Second World War broke out following the German (and Soviet) invasion of Poland in September, 1939. Following the German attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, Topolski accompanied the first British relief convoy sent to Russia to help them defend Moscow, as Stalin would not allow foreign photographers to document front line conditions. As a Polish national, Topolski was granted access by the Soviet regime to visit the Polish army prisoners who were being reformed into units intended to repel the Nazi invaders. (As many as 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia captured and rounded up by the Soviet invaders had previously been secretly massacred in the Katyn Forest by order of the Soviet Politburo in April and May, 1940). Dr. Harsanyi did much of the research on the items selected for inclusion in the installation and the descriptive text accompanying those images in the exhibition catalog. Here is his report.
The installation “An Artist on the Eastern Front: Feliks Topolski, 1941” opened this past Thursday. The items exhibited in the last gallery on the fifth floor of the museum are part of the Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection donated to the Wolfsonian–FIU nearly two years ago. Out of the 57 original drawings donated by the Sharfs, curator Jon Mogul and I have selected 26 original drawings for public display.
The installation was designed by Richard Miltner, our museum’s chief exhibition designer.
Before its public unveiling, the museum staff participated in a curator-led tour of the exhibition. In his opening remarks, Jon Mogul mentioned the importance of the donation for the holdings of the Wolfsonian.
He then went on to present an outline of the life and work of Feliks Topolski.
In my turn, I spoke about some details regarding Topolski’s trip to the Soviet Union, a few months after the country had been invaded by Nazi Germany and its allies. I also mentioned the circumstances in which Stalin intended to set up a Polish army which would fight the invaders on the side of the Soviet military.
Both Jon and I also emphasized not only the documentary value of the work (scenes from life in the Soviet Union during the Second World War) but also the artistic mastery of Topolski’s drawings, which represent a fresh combination of expressionism and realism.
The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf
On this occasion, the Wolfsonian also published a catalog including an essay by Laura Brandon on war artists, Jon Mogul’s review of Topolski’s life and career, as well as captioned reproductions of the drawings on display. The catalog is available for sale in the museum’s café and shop.