Turn Back the Pages: Felik Topolski’s “The Blue Convention”


CBS Television sent Feliks Topolski (1907-1998) to the 1956 national political conventions to document them through a series of drawings. The result is a 10.5”x 12.5” book titled “The Blue Convention”.

From the book’s introduction:

“Feliks Topolski is one of the very few artists who can draw at top speed with 12,000 people milling about him. And because he is a Polish-born Londoner who has drawn his way through four continents in war and peace he can draw the American scene in an election year with political neutrality. Since these were unique qualifications for such an assignment, CBS Television invited him to attend both national conventions where he recorded these free and spontaneous reactions to a uniquely American political institution.”

As the introduction states, Topolski was a Polish born artist who primarily worked in the United Kingdom.  He was known for his illustrations, books, murals and reportage drawings. Those drawings were reproduced 24 times a year in a broadsheet, using his own printing press, that he called “Topolski’s Chronicle”.  They were sold in his studio and sent to a subscriber base of over 2,000 customers.

Here’s a video that shows an example of the Chronicle.

What I like about Topolski’s drawings is that he doesn’t solely rely on a realistic interpretation and instead aims to capture a feeling of the location. When I look at a drawing in “The Blue Convention” I can imagine the frenetic activity in the room and what it may have felt like to be there at that time.


Take a look at the drawing below. In it there’s a movement to his mark-making that gives the viewer a sense of activity within the crowd. Had he drawn it in a slower, and more studied way, the piece would most likely lose that energy; the details in it would slow the viewer down. I’m not saying that an artist can’t interpret a busy room in a realistic manner, but the way Topolski handled this is his own unique approach to depicting the world around him.

Topolski12It’s interesting to me that CBS sent an artist to document political conventions and is something I’d love to see more often. Not necessarily a political convention, but any location or event. Generally clients send a photographer to do that job because the results are easier to predict.  In Topolski’s case his drawing ability and being a foreign artist gave him a unique perspective that CBS felt was valuable to the assignment.

I wish you could flip through “The Blue Convention” instead of looking at jpegs on a screen because part of it’s storytelling is when you turn each page to see the images. But since I can’t come through this screen to hand you the book then jpegs will have to do.

I hope you enjoy this series of drawings as much as I do.

Tags: , ,

Categories: Books, History of Illustration, Illustration History, Illustrators, New Illustration

Author:Daniel Zalkus

Daniel Zalkus is an Illustrator and graduate of the School of Visual Arts in NYC. You can see more of his work at: danielzalkus.com

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