Art auction and exhibition: Berenice Sydney at Saatchi Gallery

Berenice Sydney with her cavases

Berenice Sydney with her cavases - Credit: Archant

Works by the late Highgate artist Berenice Sydney go under the hammer to help fund an art scholarship

Berenice Sydney with her cavases

Berenice Sydney with her cavases - Credit: Archant

In her short life, Berenice Sydney’s artistic output was varied, prolific and highly original.

Now, an auction of her works will fund a student at the Royal Academy School.

Her family have put 90 oils prints and drawings up for sale on October 24 with some of them also exhibited this summer at Chelsea’s Saatchi Gallery.

“It was extraordinary and very emotional to have this big exhibition at the Saatchi,” says her sister Sandra Frieze.

Berenice Sydney with her cavases

Berenice Sydney with her cavases - Credit: Archant

“It was lovely to let everybody see her work, I’m just sorry she’s not around to see it.”

It was while working in her Highgate studio in 1983 that Berenice had a fatal asthma attack, at the age of 38.

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“She had a flat in The Park which was amazing, with an outside staircase and lovely views, and she spent most of her time there,” says Sandra.

“I didn’t know she had asthma. She was due to meet a friend at the opera, and when she didn’t turn up, her friend contacted me and I went round, but there was no answer. I had to have the door knocked down.”

The sisters grew up in Hampstead surrounded by “art music and politics” with a documentary maker father and an art dealer mother.

“We took it for granted that we were surrounded by art. She loved art and started painting when she was four. I have these amazing little paintings and drawings she did as a child, she was very talented.”

A lover of music, literature and dance - Berenice studied both ballet and flamenco - she left home at 17 and although she did some training at Central School, she was largely self-taught.

“She was extremely talented and knew exactly what she wanted to do but she didn’t like to be told how to do things,” says Sandra, who is a dialogue coach for films starring the likes of Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. “She was also gorgeous, tall and stunning and very kind, warm and caring with a great wit - she once felt the family Dalmatian didn’t have enough spots so she drew more on him.

“She also loved dance and her work had a lot to do with movement and freedom of expression.”

After her first show in 1968 at the Drian Galleries, Berenice continued to exhibit widely.

Early works included linocuts of figures based on Greek mythology inspired by a holiday on the Greek islands. Later her practice explored Persian and Egyptian symbolism and encompassed drawings, costume designs and large abstract canvases using a six colour palette she called her ‘magic number’.

Ars longa, vita brevis; or ‘life is short but art lives long’ was one of her sayings. In an interview she once said she “felt she was descended from those painters for whom colour has been the pre-eminent means of expression.” Elswhere she commented: “When I feel like I could eat bits of one of my paintings. I know that those bits would be beautiful.”

She was divorced from Italian photographer Romano Cagnoni shortly before her death and was working on a Book of Nonsense celebrating April 1.

Although recognised in her lifetime, Berenice’s mother Charlotte Frieze has worked to establish the posthumous reputation she felt she deserved.

“My parents were extraordinarliy proud of her and would go to all her exhibitions. It is amazing what she achieved in her short liftime and her work is in many collections,” adds Sandra, who lives just off Finchley Road.

Just six weeks after her death her father the documentary maker Joseph Frieze died and so did the family dog. All three are buried together in Highgate Cemetery.

“My mother was greatly shocked by her death she clung onto all her pieces but it was time to let go. She is greatly missed and we are just thrilled that she’s being recognised.”

Viewings at the Saatchi Gallery, October 20-23. Further auction details: