Visual Art

The art of making money – as seen by Topolski

The long-hidden drawings by the Polish expressionist Feliks Topolski from the 1950s of the Bank of England’s printing works in Epping Forest are going on display for the first time.

When the bank opened its new banknote production works at Debden in Essex – where all our paper money is printed – in 1956 Topolski was commissioned to record the process of making money, and a free exhibition at the Bank of England Museum in the City of London which puts them on public display for the first time opens on October 1.

His pictures follow the process of creating banknotes, with portraits of some of the operators. Debden was a new town in the 1950s, built to house the victims of the East End’s wartime Blitz and the printing works is still an important source of jobs locally.

Designed by Howard Robertson and Ove Arup the printing works had the latest in secure and safe technology for banknote production, and the Topolski illustrations record the vast arches of the production hall, the hugged printing presses that are still in use, and the discreet inspectors’ gallery that had an overview of the whole operation.

Born in Warsaw Topolski came to Britain in 1935 having been commissioned to commemorate George V’s silver jubilee and stayed, becoming an acclaimed war artist and chronicler of London society and culture. He painted portraits of many prominent contemporaries, particularly of literary celebrities such as H G Wells, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene. He also drew Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi and George Bernard Shaw, and captured the subjects of John Freeman’s BBC TV television interview for Face to Face week on week. Topolski died in London in 1989.

Feliks Topolski: Drawing Debden is at the Bank of England Museum from October 1 to next summer


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