Sven was one of many artists to interpret Coleridge’s epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and I was reminded of this and Berlin’s powerful marble carving of The Albatross when I listened recently to a fascinating discussion of the complex poem on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time. Highly recommended, its analysis throws much light on why Berlin would find a connection to the poem.
The project took Berlin on a journey with his friend, the late Captain Bryn Hammond who was living in Lymington at the time and with whom Sven had a long and detailed correspondence. Carving of The Albatross began in 1990 but at a suggestion in 1995 from Bryn, a Coleridge enthusiast, Berlin began to make the drawings for his version of the poem. He showed them to a delighted Bryn that March who responded… “the drawings, accompanied by your hand-penned extracts from the poem, encapsulate and crystallize the very quintessence of Coleridge’s strange and often disturbing dream.” Bryn enabled discussions with The Friends of Coleridge society and the book was eventually produced in 1997, albeit via a long and tortuous route, and some of the artwork shown in an exhibition.
While there is a bronze head of an albatross in the collection at Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage in Cumbria, the marble sculpture, which balances and can be spun on its axis, is now in the collection of St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington. (Both works were donated by Berlin’s widow Julia).