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Sydney Berne

 (1921 - 2013)
Sydney (Bernstein) Berne was active/lived in Quebec, Ontario / Canada.  Sydney Berne is known for painting, sculpture and printmaking.

Sydney Berne

    ma-SOH(N)  speaker-click to hear pronunciation  click to hear

Biography from the Archives of askART

Biography photo for Sydney Berne
Sydney Berne (1921)

A painter, sculptor and printmaker, Sydney Berne (AKA: Sidney Bernstein, AKA: A.C. Martin, AKA: R. Fisher, AKA: Hillier) was born in Toronto, Ontario and has lived in Montreal, Quebec since returning from service in World War II (1947). (1)

His medium is primarily oil on board or canvas; however he has worked in acrylics, watercolors, graphite, ink, felt pen, wash, zinc plate etching*, linocut*, clay and mixed mediums. His subjects are landscapes, snowscapes, seascapes, street scenes, still life, portraits, tall ships and trains. The exterior locations include the Laurentian Mountains (Quebec), Nova Scotia (visited 1943), and the cities of Montreal, Quebec and Toronto. His styles are Realism*, Fauvism* and Abstract Expressionism*. The AskART images are good illustrations of his most well-known style.

His formal art education includes studies at Central Technical School, Toronto (c.1934) under Carl Schaefer (2), Charles Goldhamer, Elizabeth Wyn Wood (Hahn), Pegi Nicol MacLeod and Peter Haworth. He's also studied sculpture under Florence Wyle (c 1930s). (3)

His work has been exhibited at numerous commercial venues across Canada such as: Galerie Roland, Montreal (1954, 1967); Antoine's Art Gallery, Montreal (1956); Eaton's Fine Art Gallery, Toronto (1957, 1959); Alex Fraser Gallery, Vancouver (1960); Garfield Gallery, Toronto (solo 1962); Eaton's Fine Art Gallery, Winnipeg (1962); Jarman Gallery, Ottawa (1963); Galerie D'Art Agnan, Montreal (1978); and Somerset Gallery, Ottawa (1980).

It has also been exhibited abroad in the National Gallery, London, England (exhibition of watercolors and drawings by soldiers - 1945); Valentine Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland (1945); Swansea Gallery, London, England (1946); International Gallery, Phoenix, Arizona (1956); Gallery International, Fort Worth, Texas (1962); and the Lynn Kottler Gallery, New York City (solo 1970).

In 1977 Berne became a member of the Arts Club of Montreal* (1977 - 2006) where his work was exhibited in 1979 and 1997. (4)

Berne's works are frequently traded on the Canadian art auction market, and they are in numerous private and corporate collections in Canada and the USA.


(1.1) Please note: According to a letter from Berne on file with the National Gallery of Canada, early in his career (mid 1950s) he signed a group of paintings with the pseudonym "A.C. Martin". He did this to sell them at a lower price than his established gallery prices. According to Berne, there are a total of about a dozen 12 X 16 paintings signed "A.C. Martin"; all were sold to the A.J. Freiman Department Store, Ottawa. Berne says the name A.C. Martin has no personal significance; it was picked out of the phone book. Source: Email from Sylvie Roy, Documentalist, Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada, dated August 31, 2011, with attached letter by Berne dated August 14, 1998.

(1.2) Also please note: While researching this biography, the subject of pseudonyms was broached with Berne's agent Maurice Agnan who subsequently provided photographic and textual evidence of three additional Berne pseudonyms -  J.P. Masson, R. Fisher and Hillier. According to Berne the J.P. Masson signature was fraudulently applied by someone else; on the other hand, Berne certified signing works R. Fisher and Hillier (in addition to A.C. Martin) himself. Source: Letter, documents and photos from M. Agnan dated September 29, 2011.

(1.3) Sidney Berne's legal name is Sidney Bernstein, he began signing paintings "S. Berne" on the advice of his commanding officer Major Harry Pierce while stationed in England during World War II. "Pierce admired his [Bern's] work but ran into anti-Semitic resistance when he showed it to art dealers in London."  Source: Mordecai: The Life & Times (2010), by Charles Foran (see AskART book References).

(2) Please note: All Canadian artist teachers mentioned in this biography have their own pages in AskART.

(3.1) Please note: Because this is the first specific reference, we've encountered, of Pegi Nicol MacLeod teaching at Central Technical School, we asked Berne (October 7, 2011) if he was sure it was there that he studied under her… he maintained it was. The only other reference we could find of MacLeod connected with Central Technical School is in the book Pegi by Herself: The Life of Pegi Nicol MacLeod (2005). On page 94, author Laura Brandon briefly discusses the encouragement MacLeod gave to a friend's daughter who was a student at Central Technical; however Brandon does not say MacLeod was employed as a teacher there.  

(3.2) Please note: A Dictionary of Canadian Artists (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald says, "During his free time [Berne] studied water colours with John Carlson." However, MacDonald does not say where, though the implication is it was while Berne was in the Canadian Army overseas. Maurice Agnan's letter clears this up stating, that it was in England in 1944 and John Carlson was a British landscape painter. Source: M. Agnan, letter dated September 29, 2011.

(3.3) Also note: MacDonald says, "Before return­ing home [after the war] he [Berne] went to Paris where he studied Abstract Expressionism* under André Paul"; on the other hand The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar says it was "Paul Andre". Maurice Agnan confirmed the teacher's name is André Paul; he added, the classes lasted for only one month in 1945. Source: M. Agnan, letter dated September 29, 2011.

(4) Berne's memberships have also included: The Canadian Railway Historical Association (1983 - 2003), The American Theatre Organ Society (1955 - 2003), and The Cinema Organ Society [England] (1954 - 2006). Source: M. Agnan, letter dated September 29, 2011.


"A Dictionary of Canadian Artists" (1974), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)

"The Collector's Dictionary of Canadian Artists at Auction" (2001), by Anthony R. Westbridge and Diana L. Bodnar (see AskART book references)

"Artistes Plasticiens" (1983), by Andre´ Comeau (see AskART book references)

"Mordecai: The Life & Times" (2010), by Charles Foran (see AskART book References)

"Journey Without Ending: An Artist's Odyssey" (draft) memoirs by Sidney Berne

The Canadian Heritage Information Network*

Canadian Writers Society, Montreal

"The Vulcan 1934: Central Technical School Annual School Magazine" (page 104)

Sylvie Roy, Documentalist, Library and Archives, National Gallery of Canada (by email)

Maurice Agnan letter, CV, documents, photos and phone conversations dated September 29, 2011 to October 7, 2011

 * For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary


In 2006, when Mr. Berne was made an honorary member of the Canadian Writers Society, he announced that he had completed his memoirs and that his CV was being updated by his agent Maurice Agnan. Mr. Agnan has kindly provided us with the CV, as well as photos and excerpts from the draft copy of Mr. Berne's autobiography. This original source material has cleared up some disagreements between other sources, provided dates for events, and supplied information about the artist not found elsewhere. We thank Mr. Agnan for his generosity and invaluable help in preparing the above biography. However, only a small portion of the material available fit within the scope of our work, for the full story we look forward to the publication of Sidney Berne's memoirs. MDS

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.



Biography from the Archives of askART
Biography photo for Sydney Berne
The following information is from Richard Bernstein, nephew of the artist.

My Uncle, Sydney Berne, is listed in AskART. He recently passed away on March 26th, 2013.  His actual name was Sydney Bernstein. He used the name Sydney Berne since it was difficult to sell painting in the 40's and 50's with a Jewish name.  He also sold in some department stores under the name A.C Martin, R.Fisher and Hillier.

Here is the obituary:
(Canadian Artist - Sydney Berne)

August 7, 1921 - March 26, 2013

With sadness the family of Sydney Bernstein announces his passing in Montreal on March 26, 2013 in his 92nd year.   Sydney was the much-loved son of Michael and Fanny Bernstein. He was a devoted brother to his sister Bertha (predeceased) and her husband Max (predeceased) and his brother Jack and his wife Florence.

Predeceased by the love and center of his life, his wife Tilly.  He will remain in the hearts of his stepson Morty and wife Marianne Constantine, his granddaughters, Natalie and Andrea, and great-grandchildren Tyler, Jenna and Tiffanie.

He was the adored Uncle of Estelle (predeceased), Tobi (Al), Lawrence (Marie-Louise) and Richard, as well as their children Michael (Jennifer and their children Charlotte and Theo), Sarah, Julien, Bryna, Ira and Rebecca.

Sydney was a true artist at heart.  Born in Toronto, Sydney attended Central Tech where he studied watercolours under Carl Shafer, an associate of the Group of Seven. He joined the Army in WW2, where his artistic ability was put to use illustrating training and field manuals. While overseas, he studied Abstract Expressionism under Andre Paul in Paris before returning home.I n 1946 he settled in Montreal. It was in the Province of Quebec that Sydney found his inspiration in the picturesque Laurentienne landscape and Montreal street scenes. 

His work is on display in many public buildings in Montreal and Toronto as well as in the hands of private collectors.  He is prominently covered in books and articles covering Canadian Art.  Sydney was very fortunate to actively enjoy his passions; painting, music and writing, right up to the end of his life.
Sydney was a very gentle, kind and benevolent man. Ignited by the passing of his love Tilly, Sydney donated countless paintings to hospitals and charities, including Baycrest Hospital, Toronto and The Maimonides, Montreal, in her name raising tens of thousands of dollars. 

Many thanks to the staff for the excellent care at his residence, Le Waldorf and in his final moments, the team at St. Mary's Hospital in the ICU and Palliative Care.

"Goodbye our sweet Syd, we will all miss you."

A funeral is being held today in Montreal.  

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at

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Biography photo for Sydney Berne
Photo May 1946, courtesy of Maurice Agnan.

About  Sydney Berne

Born:  1921 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Died:   2013 - Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Known for:  painting, sculpture and printmaking