CURATORS AND COLLECTORS MEET TO DISCUSS WOLFSONIAN FELIKS TOPOLSKI EXHIBITION PLANS

Just last week, long-time museum supporter, Frederic A. Sharf visited The Wolfsonian to meet with curators and library staff about plans for exhibiting some recent donations to the collection. Mr. Sharf brought with him Leslie Verrinder, the gentleman who had proved instrumental to facilitating the purchase of an important archive of fifty-seven original design drawings made by the Polish artist, Feliks Topolski (1907-1989) from his daughter, Teresa. Eager to see the works made available to the greater community of scholars, Mr. Sharf has recently donated the artwork to The Wolfsonian-Florida International University, knowing that they would not sit idly on archival shelves somewhere collecting dust, but would be catalogued, digitized, and exhibited in our public galleries. Below are some “quick and dirty” reference shots taken of a few of Topolski’s wartime drawings; once they have been fully catalogued, all of the illustrations will be professionally photographed and digital images made available for researchers.

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THE JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF COLLECTION

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Feliks Topolski received formal art training at the Academy of Arts in that city. Traveling to England to record King George V’s silver jubilee celebrations, he took up permanent residency in London.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

After the simultaneous Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 triggered the Second World War, Topolski was commissioned as a war artist, sketching the horrors of the German bombing campaign known as “the Blitz,” and picturing the organization of a Polish government and army in exile. Many of the artist’s impressions were included in his Britain in Peace and War, originally published in London in 1941.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Given Stalin’s reluctance to allow photographic illustrations of conditions in Russia following the Nazi invasion in the summer of 1941, the British assigned Topolski to accompany the first Allied aid convoy to the Soviet Union. After crossing through the Arctic Ocean to the seaport of Archangel, Topolski flew to Moscow and just behind the front lines. While there, he provided pictures of the Polish soldiers freed in order to fight the Nazis alongside the Red Army in support of Soviet interests.

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GIFT OF JEAN S. AND FREDERIC A. SHARF

Obviously, the Soviets made no mention of the 15,000 to 21,000 members of the Polish Officer Corps captured in 1939 who were marked for death and secretly massacred in the Katyn forest in March 1940 with Joseph Stalin’s approval.

The original Topolski sketches and rare books and periodicals reproducing the illustrations provide a rare glimpse into conditions behind the Russian front during this desperate and critical period, as seen and drawn by a talented artist. Sketches include images of the onion-domed buildings of Red Square, the buildings and people living in the Soviet capital, a downed Nazi bomber, portraits of women war workers, and the family members of prominent Russian generals. During the war, some of these illustrations found their way to the pages of Picture Post magazine, while others were collected and printed in Topolski’s Russia in War, published in London in 1942.

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GIFT OF NICOLAE HARSANYI

Curator Jon Mogul and Associate Librarian Nicolae Harsanyi will be working to put the exhibition together as well as on an exhibition catalog with contributions by Mr. Sharf and researcher Angel Morales.

To provide some historical context for the new acquisitions, I had laid out a variety of library materials dealing with the Russian front. Thanks to a gift from Elinor J. Brecher made in memory of her grandfather Leo Brecher, the library possess three sound disc recordings of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s speech in 1941 announcing Russia’s entry into the war which might provide an audio complement to the visual materials included in the exhibition.

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GIFT OF ELINOR J. BRECHER, IN MEMORY OF HER GRANDFATHER, LEO BRECHER

A couple of recently purchased rare books were printed in the English language and were profusely illustrated with photographs (once Stalin relented), in order to win sympathy for the new Soviet ally whose survival was critical to the war’s outcome.

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Margaret Bourke-White, America’s most respected female photographer of the period who had already visited the Soviet Union in times of peace and had published her Eyes on Russia  in 1931, was invited back to document the nation’s wartime standing.

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Several children’s books and pamphlets in our collection were also designed to show how the Soviet youth and peoples were in full support of and willing to face death stoically in their desire for victory in the “Great Patriotic War.”

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GIFTS OF FRANCIS XAVIER LUCA AND CLARA HELENA PALACIO-DE LUCA

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The Wolfsonian library also possesses a copy of Album historico la II Guerra Mundial, a rare portfolio of color lithographic prints designed by Mexican illustrator, Antonio Arias Bernal, originally intended to be produced as playing cards to encourage the U.S.’s neutral neighbors to the South to declare war on the Axis powers. One image was created to whitewash Stalin’s “reluctant” signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact in 1939, while others humorously or heroically represented the stiff resistance Hitler’s army faced on the Russian front.

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GIFT OF MARTIJN F. LE COULTRE

The library possesses a couple of unbound issues of the Russian-language propaganda magazine, Krasnoflotskii listok, dating from the last years of the war. Naturally, the illustrations by F. Rusetskii caricature Hitler and glorify the heroic Red Army victories.

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An English-language information bulletin published by the Embassy of the USSR in Washington, D.C. at the war’s end also pictures the struggle as another episode in the historic and heroic struggle of the Russian people against German aggressors.

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GIFT OF STEVE HELLER

The imagery on the cover is reminiscent of a similar tact as taken by the great Soviet propaganda filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948) in his Alexander Nevsky (released in December, 1938). Depicting the victory of the Russians in 1242 over the invading Teutonic (German) Knights, the immensely popular film was removed from circulation in the wake of the negotiation of the Hitler-Stalin Nonaggression Pact. It returned to the silver screen in the East and West following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.

Left-leaning sympathizers of the Soviet Union living and working in the United States also used their influence to shore up Russia’s reputation as a new friend and ally. The outspoken Socialist minister Harry F. Ward and his son, artist and book illustrator Lynd Ward (1905-1985) worked collaboratively to rehabilitate the Soviet image in word and image and to show how the cooperative efforts of the Allies ended Hitler’s reign of terror.

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During Mr. Sharf’s visit, Associate Librarian Rochelle Pienn discussed with him our plans to make use of his gifts of materials related to the Panama Canal in the next library exhibit to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of the completion of the canal in 1914. Ms. Pienn will address those materials and plans in our next blog post.

~ by "The Chief" on January 24, 2014.

2 Responses to “CURATORS AND COLLECTORS MEET TO DISCUSS WOLFSONIAN FELIKS TOPOLSKI EXHIBITION PLANS”

  1. Important point of view of the history in this blog, supported by a great selection from an artistic collection of primary resources. Thanks

  2. .

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