Berg never courted publicity, and was therefore never as well known to the public as some of his more flamboyant contemporaries. His work celebrated nature in its most cultivated form, and throughout his life he was fascinated by England’s parks and gardens; among those he recorded were Windsor, Kew, Dartington, Nymans, Stourhead and Sheffield Park.
Adrian Berg was born on March 12 1929 in London, where his father, Charles, was an eminent psychiatrist whose books included War in the Mind (1941), Deep Analysis (1946) and Clinical Psychology (1948). Family lore had it that Adrian’s paternal grandfather had escaped on a stolen passport from Russia to Switzerland, whence he made his way to India to become a timber merchant.
At both his prep school and his public school, Charterhouse, Adrian won drawing prizes; but at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, he embarked on a degree in Medicine before deciding to switch to English. He then spent a year at Trinity College, Dublin, taking a Higher Diploma in Education. Two years of National Service followed and it was only then, in 1955, that he began to train as a painter, at St Martin’s, Chelsea and finally at the Royal College of Art.
In 1961 Berg set up his studio in Gloucester Gate, overlooking Regent’s Park, which he occupied for almost a quarter of a century and where he made the rich, exquisitely coloured Regent’s Park paintings for which he is well known.
While still a student in the late 1950s, Berg had seen a retrospective exhibition of Monet’s work at the Tate Gallery, and he considered these the best paintings he had ever seen. “Nothing bettered Monet’s Post-Impressionist paintings of his garden,” he wrote in a 2008 exhibition catalogue; and Monet remained an important influence, as did Bonnard. But while Monet’s understanding and use of colour were perhaps the most obvious elements that Berg absorbed, he also learned the value of returning repeatedly to a single subject, over weeks, months and even years.
If the garden at Giverny could sustain Monet’s vision for a decade, then why shouldn’t the Temperate House at Kew Gardens or the lake at Stourhead — or, more recently, Beachy Head — do the same for Berg? However narrow the subject matter, Berg found new ways of recording it and of examining the effects of the seasons on the landscape. He experimented with different dilutions of paint, studied the ways in which water alters the forms of the trees it reflects, and intensified or reduced the richness of colour to extract the maximum expressive potential from the subject.
In 1973 Berg won the Gold Medal at the Florence Biennale. In 1982 he took part in Presences of Nature, an exhibition in which some of Britain’s leading landscape artists were invited to respond to and celebrate the Lake District.
Among the high points of Berg’s career was his solo exhibition in 1986 at the Serpentine Gallery in London, organised by Joanna Drew at the Arts Council of Great Britain and which subsequently toured the country. In 1992 he was elected a Royal Academician, and in 1994 an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Art.
Among the qualities which most delighted Berg’s friends was his mischievous sense of humour. He would, for example, with his friend and fellow artist, Paul Huxley, invent alternative surnames for his contemporaries. Howard Hodgkin became Howard Splodgkin and Patrick Caulfield became Patrick Cornflake. Berg also created a fictitious interviewer who appeared in exhibition catalogues to ask him exactly the questions he wanted to be asked and, in keeping with his self-effacing nature, to disguise his intense seriousness of purpose:
Silas Tomkyn Comberbache: “What is your daily routine?”
Adrian Berg: “I try to avoid repeating the previous day’s mistakes.”
STC: “What do you actually do in the studio?”
AB: “Practically nothing. I heard a programme lately about some nuns who passed all their time in prayer and depended on charity for food, and it seemed that we had something in common.”
The idea that Berg did almost nothing in the studio was, of course, a complete fiction. He was a disciplined artist, obsessive, driven and committed to a rigorous daily routine. His work was exhibited every year between 1955 and 2009, the year in which he had his final and very beautiful exhibition of watercolours in the Friends’ Room at the Royal Academy.
Adrian Berg, born March 12 1929, died October 22 2011
Obituary - Telegraph Newspaper - 26th October 2011