Sven Berlin (1911-1999) was a painter, sculptor and writer, born in Sydenham, S.E. London.
While attending classes at Beckenham School of Art, encouraged by Henry Carr R.A., his burning ambition to become an artist was diverted when he met his first wife Helga and they took to the music hall stage as adagio dancers.
It was not until 1938 that he resumed his art training and career when the couple moved to Cornwall and eventually St. Ives. Here he would meet the artists who would establish the modernist movement (Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon, Naum Gabo and others), building a reputation as a charismatic sculptor and painter in his Tower studio at Porthgwidden Beach. He can be seen in the film below, having returned from service in WW2, walking across the rocks towards his studio.
In 1953, after bitter infighting in the St. Ives Society of Artists, the Crypt Group and the Penwith Society and determined to remain a representational artist, Berlin left the art colony with his second wife Juanita for the New Forest, in a gypsy waggon. Here he would paint a memorable body of work recording the last days of the gypsy community living in Shave Green. (This was the subject of an exhibition at St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in Lymington, Hampshire, in 2003.)
Now well established in the New Forest, Berlin continued painting and writing (a total of ten books), but his marriage to Juanita came to an end in 1962 when she left with their groom, the Irish journalist Fergus Casey.
Berlin’s time in St. Ives would come back to haunt him when he published his book The Dark Monarch in 1962, a roman à clef which painted an intriguing but unsavoury picture of the art colony and its thinly disguised members.
Berlin and his third wife Julia moved to the Isle of Wight in 1970 after a series of lawsuits relating to The Dark Monarch and he would not return to the mainland (just outside Wimborne in Dorset) until 1975.
Berlin continued his strict daily regime of painting, sculpting and writing until his death at the age of 88.
All Sven Berlin works shown in our Art Gallery are drawn from a private and unique New Forest collection which spans his entire output, reflecting every aspect of his extraordinary and colourful life.
Some works have been exhibited in the New Forest, Cornwall and, in Berlin’s lifetime, in London and elsewhere. (See exhibition list)