Born in London to an English mother and Swedish father (paper merchant), Berlin was originally an apprentice mechanical engineer before leaving that trade to enrol in the Beckenham School of Art at the age of 17. He then began training as an Adagio dancer. Retiring from dancing in 1938, he and his wife settled in a cottage on the Zennor moors.
A recent correspondent (2011) has noticed that most biographies of the artist appear to omit an interlude when Sven, his wife and children, lived in a farm-labourer type of cottage, one of two or three row cottages in Happy Valley, Treswithian, Camborne. [This was perhaps when he was studying at Redruth nearby.] 'About the only furnishings were a few upright chairs, an inverted half-barrel that served as a table, and small nude paintings of his wife on all the colour-washed walls. There was bread and water. The two, I think, little girls ran about barefoot. I was then fifteen or sixteen.'
Berlin studied under Arthur Creed HAMBLY at Redruth School of Art, describing Hambly as "the third of the Three Wise Men sent to guide my destiny" - also adding "but the special quality of integrity as an artist and teacher made him a unique person: a man of truth". At the outbreak of war in 1939 he registered as a Concientious Objector; in 1943, however, he joined the Royal Artillery, taking part in the Normandy landings. Discharged in 1945 on medical grounds, he suffered from nervous shock and the breakdown of his marriage.
Before joining the military, Berlin had met Ben NICHOLSON, Barbara HEPWORTH and Naum GABO and also helped at the Leach Pottery. On recovery from his breakdown, he rented an unoccupied building on the Island called 'The Tower', turning it into a sculptor's workshop. In 1950 he was evicted from 'The Tower' in order for it to be converted into a public convenience. He subsequently remarried and moved to a house at Cripplesease which was destroyed by fire in 1952. The following year he bought a gypsy caravan, moving to the New Forest to live among the gypsies there.
As well as sculpture, Berlin produced drawings, paintings and wrote highly regarded poetry and prose. His writings and aspects of his controversial and explosive life are fully explored on the internet, and remain of local interest in Cornwall today. His daughter, Greta BERLIN, is also a sculptor, and a piece of her larger work, The Couple, is in Trevelyan House, Penzance at the Hypatia Trust.
Painter, sculptor, writer
works and access
Likenesses of the artist: A portrait of the artist was painted by Leonard John FULLER; his autobiographies contain many likenesses in caricature.
Sculptural works include Mother and Child (1947); Women Singing (1947 bas relief, concrete); Crouching Woman (1948, alabaster)
Painting works include Still Life Fruit; Mare and Foal (ink drawing); Cottage North Cliffs (c1939 illus)
Written work includes Alfred Wallis (1949); The Dark Monarch (1962, fictionalised autobiography about St Ives); 1992 'The Eye of the Hurricane' in Artists from Cornwall Exh Cat; see fuller list on Wikipedia
Access to works include Public Collections at the Tate Gallery, London; Victoria and Albert Museum; British Museum; National Library of Scotland
STISA 1947 (W), 1949 Touring Shows
Lefevre Gallery, London 1946
Heal's Mansard Gallery, St Ives One-Man Show Jan-Feb 1951
RWE, Artists from Cornwall, Bristol 1992 (Essay by SB in Catalogue)
Belgrave Gallery St Ives Sven Berlin, Sculpture, Paintings & Works on Paper 8 - 31 October 2009
Tate St Ives The Dark Monarch, Magic & Modernity in British Art October2009 - January 2010
Sven Berlin - Polymath, Belgrave St Ives (9-30 Oct)
2019: Drawings from 'The Dark Monarch', Belgrave St Ives (11-25 Nov)
misc further info
Correspondent letter in WCAA file.
The Coat of Many Colours, Virgo in Exile, The Other Man (3 autosvenographies); The Art of Sven Berlin, St Ives & Beyond 1911-1999 (CD Rom + booklet)
Sven Berlin, Sculpture, Paintings & Works on Paper (2009) Exhibition catalogue (illus)
Davies (1994) St Ives Revisited - innovators and followers
Hoyle, H (Oct 2013 Women Artists in Cornwall www.cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'Margaret Mellis and St Ives Modernism'
Hoyle, H (April 2016 Women Artists in Cornwall www.cornishmuse.blogspot.com) 'Taking Space at the Crypt Gallery'
Rees et al (1992) Artists from Cornwall pp16-18
RWE (1992) 'The Eye of the Hurricane' in Artists from Cornwall
Tate (1985) St Ives 1939-64: 25 Years of Painting, Sculpture and Pottery (biog notes p117 with photo 1948)
Tovey (2003) Creating a Splash;
Obituary The Independent
Special correspondent Polly Walker (friend)