Belgrave St Ives - Modern & Contemporary Art

Sven Berlin

Sven Berlin (1911-1999)

Born: London

Studied: Camborne and Redruth Schools of Art, 1934 - 1938

Moved to Cornwall: 1940s

Left Cornwall: 1953


Solo Exhibitions:
'Sven Berlin: Polymath', Belgrave St Ives
'Sven Berlin: Drawings for Sculpture & Other Works on Paper', Belgrave St Ives
'Sven Berlin: Out of the Shadows', Penlee House, Penzance, Cornwall
'Sven Berlin: Recently Discovered Paintings and Drawings', Belgrave St. Ives
'Sven Berlin: Sculpture, Paintings & Works on Paper', Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives
'Sven Berlin: Sculpture', Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives
'Sven Berlin', Belgrave Gallery, St. Ives
Sven Berlin exhibited widely from the 1940s and his work is held in many public and private collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Berlin: The Coat of Many Colours - Autosvenography
Sven Berlin: Virgo in Exile - Autosvenography 2
Sven Berlin: The Other Man - Autosvenography 3
Alfred Wallis: Primitive by Sven Berlin

Introduction to 'Sven Berlin: Sculpture' Exhibition Catalogue:

Sven Berlin Returns to Fore Street
Since Sven Berlin's death in 1999, there have been almost no opportunities to view the sculpted works of one of the most interesting members of the group of St. Ives Moderns. Berlin actually first arrived in St. Ives during the late 1930s, around the same time that Ben Nicholson first moved here. Always a flamboyant character, the ex-adagio dancer must have cut quite a bohemian dash in the St. Ives of the post-War period, and was instrumental in the formation of both the Crypt Group in 1946, and the Penwith Society in 1949. Multi-talented, Berlin was 'a remarkable man whose creativity was awesome; maker of paintings, drawings and watercolours; carver of wood and stone; writer of novels, autobiography and poems' (Irving Grose, introduction to Belgrave Gallery exhibition catalogue). His pictorial works and writings have made regular appearances in St. Ives over the years, but it is more than 20 years since such a substantial group of his sculptures has been on view.
Sensitively presented by the Belgrave Gallery's Michael Gaca, the exhibition is comprised of some 33 pieces of sculpture, supported by a substantial group of related paintings and drawings.
It was in May 1948 that Sven's first one-man show of sculpture (as well as drawings and paintings) in St. Ives was held at the Bookshop of G.R.Downing in Fore Street. Yet in 1984 when the Tate held its impressive St Ives exhibition Sven was represented by a single sculpture.
There is little doubt that Sven became somewhat marginalised during the decades after his leaving St Ives in 1953. Living with the gypsies in the New Forest (a period celebrated with a remarkable exhibition at St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, Lymington in 2003) then living on the Isle of Wight followed by his settling in semi-isolation in deepest Dorset undoubtedly contributed to his amazing life-experiences but did little to further his career. Sven always felt that he suffered as a result of the bitter struggle between modernists and traditionalists over control of the exhibiting society in St Ives. It was the politics that drove him to leave St Ives (see Peter Davies's essay 'Sven Berlin in St Ives 1938-1953',1981 and Sven's autobiography 'The Coat of Many Colours', 1994. When in 1962 he published his terrific novel The Dark Monarch (a lightly-veiled expose of the politics of St Ives in the early 50s) he found himself in serious trouble with several of the artists depicted in the book; they sued him for libel and brought about his financial ruin. It is likely, however, that the gradual success of the abstract movement, coupled with his self-imposed exile was as much the cause of Sven's lack of recognition as any long-standing grudges held by the artistic powers-that-be.
Sven Berlin was a remarkable man whose creativity was awesome; maker of paintings, drawings and watercolours; carver of wood and stone; writer of novels, autobiography and poems. His strength of character, which enabled him to reach the heights of artistic excellence while enduring grinding poverty, was matched by immense physical strength which enabled him to carve even granite. Above all his life was characterised by an indomitable spirit that nothing could extinguish.