...In 1920, seeking to advance their careers, Berthelsen and Adams moved to New York, where both achieved rapid success. From 1920 through the late ‘50s , Wayman Adams painted some of his best-known works. Johann Berthelsen established a private school of singing instruction at the Rodin Studios and attracted a distinguished following, including Howard Marsh who created the lead in “The Student Prince,” and Robert Halliday who starred in the original production of Romberg’s “The Desert Song.”
As a hobby, he created pastels and watercolors featuring New York scenes. They were exhibited to excellent reviews, and in 1926, he was elected to membership in the American Watercolor Society.
His most significant pupil was a singer, dancer and entertainer named Helenya Kaschewski. They fell in love and were married on March 15, 1928. They had three children – a daughter, Karen, and two sons, John and Lee.
Established in New York artistic musical and theatrical circles, his professional reputation grew. Financially comfortable, fulfilled and happy, the family was a part of the vital New York arts community.
In 1929, the heady prosperity of the Roaring ‘20s dissolved in the Stock Market crash, and the arts were among the hardest hit sectors.
With many Broadway theaters shuttered and the Metropolitan Opera cutting salaries, Johann’s pupils disappeared. One by one, the family’s possessions melted away, and the family began an odyssey through a series of ever-smaller apartments. He described his plight to a fellow artist who responded, “If you could do in oil what you do in pastel, you’ll be a great success.” With what little money is left, he purchased art supplies and canvases and began to refine his technique in oil painting. He painted quickly and prolifically, his work bringing from $1 to $5 from some of the leading galleries. The proceeds went to buy food and milk. But as fast as he worked, it was sometimes not enough.
Of the many subjects he painted, the one that he would become most identified with was the city itself. The New York snow scenes – his most famous and popular works – burst with movement. Cars, trucks, taxis and people seem to rejoice in the snow that turns the city into a wonderland. He was able to maintain the pace of creation and the level of quality with a draftsman’s precision, an unerring eye, and deep feeling. Though he was exclusively self taught he totally owned his craft and technique.
As his paintings become more visible and more popular, his reputation increased. His New York scenes were acquired by, among others, William Randolph Hearst and Richard Berlin, the president of Hearst’s magazine empire, who purchased six paintings. In the mid-1930s, Berthelsen became involved in several New Deal art projects. By 1940, his reputation had grown to the point where he was asked to join The Lecture Bureau of the Columbia Broadcasting System.