John Swarbrooke Fine Art

Sven Berlin

Hosted by: John Swarbrooke Fine Art


This exhibition has already taken place

What's On / Past exhibitions / Sven Berlin

Past Exhibition Information

Nov. 30, 2022 - Dec. 4, 2022

Gallery 10


John Swarbrooke Fine Art

A winter exhibition dedicated to the animal drawings of 20th-century pioneer Sven Berlin.

Characterised by the artist’s playful style, these drawings reflect Sven’s love of animals, from a bulldog to a stag’s head, from a swallow in flight to a leaping hare. They range in date from his formative time in Cornwall to exile to the New Forest and his later move to the Isle of Wight, revealing the development of Sven’s distinctive graphic style. Sven Berlin’s Menagerie will be accompanied by a scholarly note from curator and art historian Matt Retallick.


Painter, draughtsman, sculptor, writer, Sven Berlin was born in London, his name deriving from Swedish ancestry. After a successful career as an adagio dancer in the 1930s, where he met first wife Helga, he dedicated himself to his first love: painting. In 1938 he moved to Cornwall and the growing art community of St Ives which included Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon and Naum Gabo. Sven became a co-founder of the influential Crypt Group in 1946 and a founder-member of the Penwith Society in 1949.  

Sven developed a reputation as a charismatic painter and sculptor in his Tower studio at Porthgwidden Beach. Yet in 1953, with bitter infighting between artists and an eviction from his studio, Sven left the art colony with his second wife Juanita for the New Forest in a horse-drawn wagon. Sven continued painting and writing (a total of ten books), as well as pursuing his love of animals by keeping a zoo. However the publication of The Dark Monarch in 1962, a roman à clef which painted an unsavoury picture of the St Ives art colony and its thinly disguised members, caused great controversy. 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 (to Wimborne in Dorset) until 1975.


Image credit: (detail) Sven Berlin, Swallow in flight. Courtesy of John Swarbrooke Fine Art.

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About the Hosts

John Swarbrooke Fine Art

John Swarbrooke Fine Art

Founding Director John Swarbrooke has over a decade of experience in the art trade first in Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern department and then at Simon Dickinson gallery in London. His areas of interest include 20th-century Cornish art and Modern & Contemporary portraiture. John’s approach to helping collectors is founded on the principles of transparency, art historical rigour and straightforward advice.