Self Portrait

Sven Berlin Polymath
Begrave Gallery 7-30 October 2017

This show is mainly of his later works with one or two earlier pieces. They run through sculpture, paintings, drawings which, apart from the last, all show the same weakness. Sven Berlin was eventually run out of St Ives in his gypsy caravan, seeking a life in the New Forest. He did not fit into the ideology that defined the avant guard. One of his sins was to publish a book on Alfred Wallis, also his publishing of Monarch, which poked fun at the arty celebrities that made up the community in St Ives.

He retained a commitment and practice to traditional pictorial art which included a reference to Augustus John. In a way, he was anti-intellectual. A situation well maintained in St Ives today. Maybe his attempt at bravura was his weakness. In every style and form it hampered him. This does not stop Sven Berlin from becoming a folk hero. His work is diverse.

The colours in Untitled, flowers in a glass bowl, seem to want to be French. Jump for Joy (an acrylic on paper) could be a well-mannered ghost story. He handles his works, though they often fail to arrive at a conclusion, though they have verve. The drawings in this show are his best work. The lines are uninterrupted by painting and his instincts for how paper works with charcoal are surer handed than in his other works.

Sven is as notable for his independent life as for his art, and the stories still abound. But for me he fails to make the grade, not because he lacked the ability, but because he thought he had finished before he actually had, and thereafter stopped trying.

Daniel Nanavati

Daniel Nanavati is our European Editor

Volume 32 no 3 Jan/Feb 2018 p 34

14 thoughts on “Sven Berlin at Belgrave, St Ives

  1. Thanks to the work of the Belgrave Gallery, a piece of history was shown and in doing so is helping to preserve it. Sadly, your review belittled Sven Berlin’s work.

    Could you tell me please how the atini-intellectual situation you refer to regarding Sven Berlin is being maintained in St Ives today?

  2. What a sleepy gallery in winter, but looking forward to seeing what they do in summer. Where else can you find old and dis-used garden chairs, refurbished as artworks for the modest price of £450?

      1. Hey Yul,
        I found a picture of one of the chairs they sell at the Belgrave:–modern-art-in-st-ives-seated-group

        There’s even a whole line of his furniture, Ernest Race:

        However, if you missed out on the chair at the Belgrave you can buy another one as an antique in eBay, though perhaps not as nice as the one at the Belgrave:

  3. The indifference of The Penwith Society of Art and the Newlyn Society of Artists shows in their failure to respond to Ken Turners proposal to accept Performance Art.

  4. Anyone know where I can find of Sven Berlin’s satire on St Ives, The Dark Monarch? Amazon has only used copies at £47.50, which is out of my price range.

  5. This was back in October 2017; where are the paintings from this exhibit now? Does anyone know?

    1. Sean,
      Why don’t you just ask the Belgrave Gallery directly instead of making it a public affair here? Their email, easily found in google, is:
      I’m sure they would know where Sven Berlin’s paintings are now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *