Johann Berthelsen (1883 – 1972)
Born in 1883 in Denmark to artistically inclined parents, Johann Berthelsen would become a widely successful singer, teacher, and painter. After his parents divorced, his mother brought Berthelsen and his siblings with her to the United States in 1890, eventually settling in Wisconsin.
At eighteen, Berthelsen moved to Chicago in the hope of becoming an actor, but a friend at the Chicago Musical College convinced him to audition at his school. Berthelsen received a full scholarship and enrolled at the college, where he was awarded the Gold Medal twice. After graduating, he had an active career traveling across the United States and Canada performing in operas and concerts, before joining the voice faculty at his alma mater in 1910. In 1913, Berthelsen became the voice department director at the Indianapolis Conservatory of Music.
While in Chicago, Berthelsen met the landscape painter, Svend Svendsen, whose depictions of winter scenes sparked an interest in painting for Berthelsen. After moving to Indianapolis, he befriended the painter, Wayman Adams, who had studied under William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri. The two moved to New York together in 1920 to pursue new artistic opportunities.
While in New York, Bethelsen founded a school for singing instruction at the Rodin Studios. In his spare time, Berthelsen began depicting New York in pastel and watercolor, which received positive reviews when he exhibited. In 1926, he received a membership to the American Watercolor Society.
With the initiation of the Depression, Berthelsen could no longer provide for his family as a singer or teacher. He began to use oil paint rather than pastel, selling his work in galleries to be able to afford the minimal groceries necessary to keep his family from starving. As his talent became further recognized in New York, Berthelsen began working in various New Deal projects in the mid-1930s.
As WWII came to a close, and with it newfound post-war prosperity, the public became once again enthralled with the arts. The demand for Berthelsen's works increased, allowing for the family to return to more comfortable living arrangements.
Berthelsen died in 1972 after increasingly declining health following a car accident the year before.
Photo Source: The Times Herald