Sven Berlin – Polymath

New One-Person Exhibition:
9–30 Oct 2017, Belgrave St Ives
Private View Sat 7 Oct 6 – 8pm

A major name in St Ives post-War art, Sven Berlin entered the canon of history through the critically acclaimed Tate exhibition ‘The Dark Monarch: Magic and Modernity in British Art’ in which Modernism was repositioned.

Berlin quickly made his mark as a romantic and unorthodox figure within the creative milieu that was the St Ives art scene of the 1940s and 1950s and the name of the Tate exhibition took its title from his infamous book ‘The Dark Monarch’. The book is a colourful portrayal of several identifiable characters in the town and it led to libel actions that almost ruined him financially.

Sven_Berlin Belgrave_St_Ives Polymath Modern_Art Modernism The_Dark_MonarchBerlin carving outside the tower (his St Ives studio) in 1947

To note, he arrived in Cornwall before Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, and was a founder member of the Crypt Group (1946), which was the basis for the consolidation of the post-War school of British Modernism that St Ives became famous for. He was an adagio dancer before becoming a visual artist, and his powerful flamboyant personality clashed with several of the other artists centred around St Ives. In 1953 he left Cornwall in a horse and cart (people alive today still recount the story of him tearing away at a clatter and with speed) to live amongst the gypsy community of the New Forest finally settling in Dorset, where he died in 1999.

Berlin’s tremendous artistic output, traversed a wide range of media: sculpture, painting, drawing, printmaking, autobiography, novel writing and poetry. The graphic strength of Berlin’s two-dimensional work underpinned every element of his creative work, particularly the three-dimensional draughtsmanship to be found in his stone carving. It is a fact that all great sculptors are consummate drawers (see for example Elizabeth Frink, Frank Dobson, Gaudier Brzeska et al). In addition to this draftsmanship evident in the drawings and sculpture, the innate flamboyance of Berlin’s character was given full and vibrant expression in a series of beautifully rich still life works, natural history paintings and self-portraits, which can also be seen in the exhibition.

Berlin’s strength of character, which enabled him to reach the heights of artistic excellence while enduring grinding poverty, was matched by an immense physical strength enabling him to carve granite. Above all his life was characterised by an indomitable polymathic spirit. Belgrave St Ives represents the Estate of Sven Berlin and is pleased to continue the exhibition programme of this artist’s work that began in 1989 with Belgrave Gallery, London. A fully illustrated catalogue accompanies ‘Polymath’.

Modernism Romanticism Modern_Art St_Ives Sven_BerlinSven Berlin ‘Amanita Phalloides, New Forest’ 1954, oil on board; 34 x 52.5cm.

Berlin_PreyingMantis_Belgrave_St_IvesSven Berlin ‘Praying Mantis’, pen, ink and wash; 38.5 x 29 cm.

Sven Berlin ‘OFC: Ancient Mariner’ 1995, marble; 6.25 cm (H).


For further information and images, please contact Richard Blackborow:
Belgrave St Ives, 22 Fore Street, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1HE    tel. 01736 794888

#Polymath #SvenBerlin


Installation: St Ives Exhibition 2017 & Debbie Urquhart ‘Recent St Ives Paintings’


Our two new exhibitions are now open after a Private View on Saturday night (1/4/17). The town has been busy with the re-opening of the ‘old’ part of Tate St Ives, and many visitors have been enjoying our new shows. Please click on an image above to enter a slideshow of the gallery installation. You can also view individual works in the exhibitions by visiting the gallery website using the following links:

ST IVES EXHIBITION 2017 | DEBBIE URQUHART ‘Recent St Ives Paintings’

Michael Snow Retrospective & St Ives Exhibition 2014 – Installation

W Barns-Graham: An Artist in St Ives – a note from the director

The life of an artist, dedicated to the pursuit of the intangible truth, and the means of its expression, is in many ways a lonely one. Choices have to be made regarding how one’s time and energy are spent and this is at a cost to normal human relationships, family and material needs.

I met Willie the first time the year before we opened the Belgrave Gallery in St Ives over 15 years ago. She was introduced to me by Sue and Sebastian Halliday, who were mutual acquaintances, at their Barnaloft flat and although I was familiar with her work (the gallery had purchased paintings by her as part of its Modern British Art Collection over the years) I was immediately impressed by her perceptive intelligence, keen interest and warmth as a person.

As I came to know Willie a little more over the following years I became aware, even at this relatively late stage of her career, of her fortitude, resilience and determination, qualities that had never faltered. But also, this apparently hard exterior masked a sensitive, sometimes vulnerable human being. She was ever supportive of my efforts with the gallery and generous through her empathy with personal matters.

A critique of the artist’s work is found elsewhere within this exhibition, so I’ll simply say I understand her work to be a rare combination of rigorous structure (constructed drawing) and personal expression (emotive handling of form and colour).

Although I came to know Willie only in the later period of her life I was pleased to witness her receive the various accolades she so rightly deserved for a lifetime’s dedication to art.

I hope this exhibition helps to mark in a small way the legacy of Wilhelmina Barns-Graham with our particular emphasis on the St Ives work in this centenary year of her birth.

Michael Gaca

Gallery Director

You can explore the exhibition via this photosynth view or via the website