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Journey through the archives

Discovering the friends and supporters of Sven Berlin through letters and notes is turning into an exciting journey. It is extraordinary that so much has survived the artist’s often damp and challenging circumstances. There is correspondence from poets, writers, fellow artists, family, patrons and longstanding friends among recent additions to the collection.

Sometimes an unexpected gem crops up - such as a handwritten postcard to Sven’s second wife Juanita from the magical writer and philosopher John Cowper Powys, following the couple’s visit with their son Jasper, to his home in Blaneau Ffestiniog, Wales. Having edited Juanita’s vast autobiography, Azerbaijan! I was able to confirm that the sender, only shown as JCP, PP and Olwen were in fact John Cowper Powys and Phyllis Plater, his companion and that Olwen was their favourite doll! Those of you who have the book can find the reference to their meeting on page 594.

A group of letters, written by painter Adrian Ryan to Sven Berlin, sits on my desk in which was discovered a folded postcard letter (few of us will remember such things!) addressed to The Tower, St. Ives, (Cornwall) and inscribed to ‘Jacque and Sven’. Apologising for Adrian’s ‘disgusting behaviour’, it is dated 1947 and is likely to relate to a tempestuous moment in Mousehole. Adrian had a studio in the fishing village and seated in The Ship Inn on the harbour he introduced Sven to Augustus John. ‘Jacque’ was Jacque Moran, Sven’s girlfriend at the time, the sister of children's author and sea captain, the late and much missed Phil Moran, who lived in Patrick Heron's studio. This is one of several portraits of her dating to that time.

Painting of Jacque Moran in cardigan with cigarette 1947 by Sven Berlin
Sven Berlin's oil painting of Jacque Moran, 1948. They met artist Augustus John with the painter Adrian Ryan in Mousehole.

If you’d like to know more about Adrian Ryan including his relationship with Sven Berlin I can recommend Julian Machin’s biography, Rather A Rum Life. Sven and Adrian had a mutually affectionate and supportive relationship, also charted in my biography of Sven, Timeless Man. Sven’s emotional tribute, albeit edited, was read at Adrian’s memorial service and talked of his being ‘a painter’s painter…always generous and kind…’

Adrian Ryan, painter, at his easel.
Adrian Ryan at his desk in Suffolk. Sven and Adrian Ryan remained supportive friends. Sven thought of Adrian as 'always generous and kind' . (Photo is unattributed and is dated 1957 (or 54) on the reverse.)


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