I.J. Berthe Hess

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I.J. Berthe Hess
Born Berthe Isapow
(1925-11-04) 4 November 1925 (age 92)
Paris, France
Died 6 April 1996(1996-04-06) (aged 70)
Bazas, France
Nationality French
Movement Bertisme
Spouse(s) Adolph Hess
Website ijberthehess.com

I.J. Berthe Hess (4 November 1925 - 6 April 1996) was a French-born painter recognized for having created the Bertisme technique, which involves the "sculpting" by brush of great quantities of oil paint on canvas.

Early life[edit]

I.J. Berthe Hess was born Berthe Isapow on 4 November 1925 in Belleville, Paris, France to Russian parents, Joseph and Chaja Isapow, who owned a leather factory and had four other children. On her father's side, she is related to Igor Stravinsky, the Russian composer.[1] In 1933, when Berthe was eight years of age, they moved to the Porte des Lilas. During the second world war, their house was used by partisans and resistants, and Berthe was engaged in delivering messages to Resistance Leader, Jean Moulin. At the age of 24, she met 21-year-old British Citizen, Adolph Hess. They married immediately and in 1951, she gave birth to a unique daughter, dancer and choreographer Mauricette Fortunée Hess, who shall later give birth to singer, musician and graphic novel author, Sol Hess.


Les Chevaux Demi-Sauvages, by I.J. Berthe Hess, 1964

During her career, she both signed her work and authenticated it by a thumb print in the back of the canvas.[2] Hess' Bertisme technique, named as such by the influential British art critic Peter Fuller, involved the "sculpting" by brush of great quantities of oil paint on canvas.[3] As a result, the surface on most paintings by Hess are about two inches thick and took up to several years to dry.[3] When seen up-close, the surface appears as a labyrinth of colour and light trapped in thick tunnels of paint and, when viewed from a certain distance, Hess' scenes progressively emerge from the canvas.[3] The biggest paintings would take her a year to complete and seven years to dry.[4]

As Hess' production was greatly limited in terms of quantity by the time of execution each painting took, her work is extremely rare. In addition the technique is so demanding and complex that it has been said to be impossible to forge,[5] and all attempts to do so seem to have failed.[6]

Due to its use of colour and light, Bertisme has often been described as being "One Step Beyond Impressionism",[7] and while Hess has been compared to artists such as Turner, Pissarro, Manet, Rubens, Utrillo, and also Pollock, it has however been admitted by all that her work is unique. In 1969, Peter Fuller, who was to write a book about Hess before his tragic accident[1] declared Hess' art as "... a real contribution to the art of this century."[8]

I.J. Berthe Hess died 6 April 1996 in Bazas, France.[9]

The B.H. Corner Gallery[edit]

In 1967, the Hess family moved to London, England and opened the B.H. Corner Gallery, on Cathedral Place next to Paternoster Square and Saint Paul's Cathedral in the City of London. They used the gallery to promote the work of young contemporary artists, and in 1972 a part of it gave birth to a permanent exhibition of Hess' work.[10] The B.H. Corner Gallery was a very popular venue, which saw a procession of all kinds of visitors, including show-business stars, politicians, artists and writers, and was a frequent hangout for all stratas of the City's population.[11] Adolph Hess ran the gallery until his death of multiple sclerosis in 1977 after which Berthe and her daughter Mauricette continued his work until 1987 when it had to close due to redevelopment of Paternoster Square.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Tony Cornwall-Jones, Adam's Apple Magazine, November 1993
  2. ^ David Buckman (2006), Dictionary of Artists in Britain Since 1945, I, Art Dictionaries, p. 120, ISBN 095326095X 
  3. ^ a b c Peter Fuller (June 1969), Synthesis: A New Magazine Of The Arts, 1 (1), The surface of the canvas becomes a myriad of grottos, which capture and contain the light reflecting it off at a thousand different angles.  Missing or empty |title= (help);
  4. ^ Tony Cornwall-Jones, Adam's Apple Magazine, November 1993: "...Many of the paintings are huge. Taking up to a year to complete, and up to seven years to dry, the weight of each one is enormous!"
  5. ^ Richard Stone, Buying Antiques, 13 July 1973: "...The output of this artist is limited in quantity by the difficulty of its execution. It can never be copied, imitated or forged, and one square inch of surface could not be reproduced even by the artist herself. The technical problems of making adequate prints of this work are enormous, and as only a handful of her works will ever be sold their rarity value will be considerable."
  6. ^ Tony Cornwall-Jones, Adam's Apple, November 1993: "...No one can say with certainty how the colour is applied: that is a secret that she keeps to herself. All those who have advanced theories have been hopelessly wrong, and it is not until you actually try to simulate the technique that you realize that all the normal tools and experience, and just about every means of fabrication and decoration available, together with a great deal of lateral thinking, are to no avail.(...) On one occasion, an artist who was rumored to be 'the most skilled and experienced of all forgers' told her that it was impossible to replicate. There is no apparent or even vaguely practical means of doing what she does."
  7. ^ Susan Ward (July 15, 1972), "Beyond Impressionism", Art And Antiques., She has taken Impressionism that one step further and developed and christened a new phase, "Bertisme" 
  8. ^ Peter Fuller, The City Press, April 1969: "...Each canvas is a triumph, a superb and highly original work. Taken together, they are more than that: they are a real contribution to the art of this century."
  9. ^ "Fallece Berthe Hess", Reforma, sec. Cultura, p. 19, May 19, 1996 
  10. ^ Callum Johnston, City Press, 16 November 1972: "The City is now the proud home of a permanent museum for one of the few completely unique painting techniques to come out of this century: Bertisme. More than thirty works are now permanently on show at the BH Corner Gallery in Cathedral Place."
  11. ^ Tony Cornwall-Jones, Adam's Apple Magazine, November 1993 "Above all, it was an accessible gallery: city typists, show biz stars, art collectors, city bankers, postmen, policemen, writers, artists, sometimes singly, sometimes together, they all dropped in for a chat, for just an hour or a whole afternoon. (...) Her permanent exhibition had a procession of famous visitors, which included Prince Charles, Princess Anne and the French President, Giscard D'Estaing."

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