Feliks Topolski's 600 ft Memoir of the 20th Century installation on the South Bank will be conserved thanks to a £1 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Located in two railway arches on Concert Hall Approach, yards from the Royal Festival Hall, the Memoir takes viewers on a journey through a century's history, including portraits of Gandhi, Mao, George Bernard Shaw, Martin Luther King and Picasso. There are also scenes showing everything from the Second World War and last days of the British Raj to punks in 1970s London.
The labyrinthine Memoir, which Topolski painted continuously on the site from 1975 until his death in 1989, is in serious need of conservation. Currently suffering from damp, there are no environmental controls and a fifth of all 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 to unify and open up the arches to everyone, and re-present the Memoir as a unique piece of cultural history that takes viewers through key events as witnessed by the artist. There will also be new visitor information panels, exhibition and audio guides to highlight and document particular stories. The new installation will have a flexible infrastructure enabling curators to display the paintings as they wish.
"The Memoir is the only one of its kind," says 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."
In addition to core conservation and improvement works, a Learning Resource Centre will be set up in an adjacent arch. This will include an exhibition about Topolski and the people he painted, online access to all of his work and audio visual exploration of key themes.
The project 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, has supported the project. Over £600,000 has already been raised from others, and the project is looking for a further £1.6 million from private and charitable sources.
Once work is complete visitor numbers are expected to increase by a quarter, and schools will be particularly targeted. Opening hours (currently 5pm-8pm) will be extended to catch visitors when the South Bank is at its busiest, and guided tours will be available.
Daniel Topolski, son of the artist and member of the board, added; "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 twentieth century. 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."