This show, remarkably the first presentation of her work staged at a major public art gallery in over thirty years, is comprised of a selection of oil paintings and works on paper that reflect Berenice’s – as she was professionally known – signature lyrical and highly animated graphic style. Her paintings, notable for their fluency of form and movement, are inscribed with her passion for music and dance – she studied classical ballet, guitar and flamenco – as well as the sense of liberation and freedom of expression which prevailed in Britain during the 1960s.
Paintings such as Untitled (1966), and Lady Enjoying the Sun (On the Beach) (1966) (illustrated right), both of which are featured in Dancing with Colour, are typical of her work, in that they reflect the influence of cubist and fauvist vocabularies that were central to Berenice’s practice, in contrast to the then-prevailing Pop Art aesthetic.
Although she died shortly before her thirty-ninth birthday, her work was widely shown in Britain and abroad in her lifetime and is held in over 100 important private and public collections; these include the Victoria & Albert Museum, Tate and the Smithsonian, Washington D.C.
Of her first solo show at the Drian Galleries in London in 1968, the critic Marina Vaizey in Arts Review praised Berenice’s drawings based on Greek myths as ‘neo-classical in technique and vaguely reminiscent of the famous period of Picasso, arguing ‘a tough self-training’ and as being ‘coherent and elegant exercises.’
One of the most expressive and original artists working in Britain in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Berenice’s oeuvre spans paintings, drawings, prints, children's books, costume design and performance. She travelled widely throughout her life, including to Greece, the Aegean islands and Egypt; the history and mythology of which provided subject matter for many of her paintings.
She continued to explore themes in her work relating to Persian mythology, Christian symbolism and Greek mythological subjects as well as referencing Ancient Egyptian art, creating a hieroglyph of her professional name and working on papyrus.
As her style developed, Berenice abandoned figurative representation for total abstraction, in which geometric or freely composed forms created rhythmic and harmonious compositions. The multifaceted experiments of this nature have been described as depicting her own ‘floating cosmos’. As is witnessed in another featured painting, Untitled (1983), (illustrated right) the vortex-like compositions of these later works generate a dynamic structural frame that expresses joy, exhilaration and the artist's extraordinary freedom of spirit.
Says Philippa Adams, Senior Director, Saatchi Gallery: ‘SALON is delighted to be working with Mallett and Dreweatts 1759 to bring this fascinating artist to wider public attention. Berenice Sydney was a brilliant colourist who uniquely combined British and European sensibilities in her work, with an enduring appetite for experimentation that was, tragically, cut short.’
Says Jennie Fisher, Head of Pictures, Dreweatts 1759: ‘Mallett in association with Dreweatts 1759 is very excited to present this exhibition of works by Berenice Sydney. SALON at the Saatchi Gallery provides an intimate venue and the unique opportunity to review and re-position her work within the wider spectrum of 20th century British art. Her vibrant paintings and works on paper reflect influences as diverse as Greek mythology and flamenco dancing, all executed with a flamboyant lyrical style’.
Proceeds from the exhibition will be donated to the Royal Academy Schools. Says the spokesperson: ‘We are delighted that proceeds from the Berenice Sydney exhibition will contribute towards an award to a student studying at the Royal Academy Schools. The award will be made at the annual Premiums Exhibition and will give vital support to the development of the recipients work in their final year of study.’