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Johann Berthelsen, 1883-1972
Bridge Nocturne oil painting by Johann Berthelsen

Circa 1945

About the Item

One of Johann Berthelsen's iconic nocturne views of New York City across the Hudson River. Bridge Nocturne (c.1945) Oil on canvas, 22" x 28" 29 ½" x 36" x 2" framed Signed "Johann Berthelsen" lower right. Provenance: Emil Montuori Gallery, New York; Private Collection About this artist: Johann Berthelsen’s career as an American Impressionist painter of lyrical cityscapes and snowscapes flourished only after he had achieved renowned success as an opera singer and voice teacher. Born in Copenhagen, Denmark on July 25th, 1883, his parents were avid supporters of the arts and encouraged their seven offspring to pursue creative endeavors. Conrad Berthelsen was a tenor at The Royal Opera in Copenhagen, and initially his youngest son Johann followed closely in his footsteps. In 1890 Berthelsen’s family emigrated to the United States, where they settled in Wisconsin. After studying music and voice at the Chicago Music College Berthelsen was hired as the lead baritone for the Grand Opera, touring with the company for five years. Eventually he returned to Chicago as a faculty member at his former college and went on to become the head of the voice department at the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music. It was in Indiana that Berthelsen met and developed a deep friendship with the painter Wayman Adams. Eventually the two friends moved to New York City and set up studios within a few blocks of one another. Berthelsen taught voice lessons while Adams worked on his paintings. In his free time Berthelsen pursued his new passion – painting. The Stock Market Crash of 1929 proved to be both a blessing and a curse for Berthelsen for his respective careers as both a musician and a burgeoning. Many of his pupils could no longer afford lessons and so his voice studio closed soon after the crash. With the loss of his teaching income Berthelsen turned to his canvases in an effort to make some money and put food on the table. He worked quickly and efficiently to finish as many paintings as possible. The vibrancy, energy, and humanity that came through in his Depression-era cityscapes did not go unnoticed by the public. Berthelsen also contributed to various New Deal art projects, which gained him a reputation not only as a Metropolitan painter, but also as an artist contributing to the rebuilding of the American economy. In 1940 he was asked to join The Lecture Bureau and The Columbia Broadcasting System after his involvement with the New Deal projects. Berthelsen and his family moved to Connecticut in 1942. In the economic boom that followed, patrons and art enthusiasts were looking to purchase Berthelsen's work again. The family moved back to New York City in 1950, where the next twenty years provided a flourishing market for Berthelsen's work. In November of 1971, Berthelsen was struck by a hit-and-run driver in New York City. The injuries were minor, however the accident shocked his system and instigated a rapid physical decline. He painted up until his death on Easter Sunday of 1972. The legacy of Johann Berthelsen encapsulates the elegant quotidian of city life through the seasons in the ways that each brush stroke brings to mind the hazy comforts of memory and space. Written by Sonia Brand-Fisher
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