September 11th Sven Paul Berlin (Birth)


London – born painter, sculptor and writer, Sven Paul Berlin (1911 – 1999) became controversial for his fictionalised autobiography ‘The Dark Monarch’ (1962) which was withdrawn days after publication following legal action by four local residents.

None of them were artists, but one was the poet, Arthur Caddick, who took exception to his portrayal in the book as Eldred Haddock, a drug-addicted writer. The book was republished in 2009 and was the theme of an exhibition at the Tate St Ives (June 23rd) to coinciding with the re-publication date.

Berlin left school at the age of twelve and became an adagio dancer (partnering another dancer in stationary poses) with Phyllis Groom until he was in his mid twenties.  He moved to Cornwall (1938) with his first wife to study painting where during the Second World War, as a conscientious objector, he worked in the Carbis Bay market garden owned by the art critic, Adrian Stokes (December 23rd)

During this time he met Ben Nicholson (February 6th) and Barbara Hepworth (May 20th).  He also began researching the life of Alfred Wallis (August 29th) which resulted in the publication of ‘Alfred Wallis, Primitive’, the first biography of the naïf artist, in 1949.  Berlin changed his views on the war, joined the army and participated in the D-Day landings.  On his return to St. Ives, suffering from jaundice and shell shock and subsequently divorced, Berlin moved into a cottage owned by Mabel Lethbridge (July 14th).

He rented ‘The Tower’, adjacent to Porthgwidden Beach, where he became known for working on his sculpture in the open air and where he met his second wife, Juanita Fisher (October 10th).His friendship with Denys Val Baker (October 24th) led to numerous written articles and illustrations for Val Baker’s literary magazine ‘The Cornish Review’.

Working closely with Peter Lanyon (August 31st), John Wells (July 28th) and Bryan Wynter (September 8th), he clashed with Hepworth and Nicholson and the rift was the inspiration for ‘The Dark Monarch’.

Isolation from his former friends and the purchase of ‘The Tower’, which was converted to other uses, led to Berlin and Fisher leaving for the New Forest where he spent much time recording, in sketches, oils and watercolours, the Shave Green traveller community and animals whilst also writing extensively, publishing ‘I Am Lazarus’ (1961) based on his war experiences, and, of course, ‘The Dark Monarch’.  

Berlin’s fascination with  the Romany culture and wildlife of the New Forest was realised in a series of mystical and philosophical stories published as ‘Jonah’s Dream: A Meditation on Fishing’ and the story of the journey from St. Ives to the New Forest, as ‘Dromengro, Man of the Road’

Fisher left Berlin for their groom, Fergus Casey and subsequently, Berlin married Julia Lenthall and the couple settled on the Isle of Wight and then in Wimborne where Berlin continued working until his death at the age of 88.  One of his last publications was ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (1997) which he wrote by hand and illustrated.







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