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Gluck (painter)

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Portrait titled Peter (A Young English Girl) by Romaine Brooks, 1923
Hannah Gluckstein

13 August 1895
London, England
Died10 January 1978(1978-01-10) (aged 82)
Steyning, Sussex, England
Alma materSt Paul's Girls' School
St John's Wood School of Art
Known forPainting

Gluck (born Hannah Gluckstein; 13 August 1895 – 10 January 1978) was a British painter, who rejected any forename or honorific (such as "Miss" or "Mr"), also using the names Peter and Hig. Gluck joined the Lamorna artists' colony near Penzance, and was noted for portraits and floral paintings, as well as a new design of picture-frame. Gluck's relationships with a number of women included one with Nesta Obermer: the artist's joint self-portrait with Obermer (Medallion) is viewed as an iconic lesbian statement.


Family and early life[edit]

Gluck was born into a wealthy Jewish family in London, England.[1] Gluck's father was Joseph Gluckstein, whose brothers Isidore and Montague had founded J. Lyons and Co., a chain of high street tea rooms and a catering empire.[2] Their father was Samuel Gluckstein (1821–1873), co-founder of Salmon & Gluckstein (by the turn of the century the largest tobacco retailer in the country), and his Dutch-born wife Hannah Joseph (1819–1895), after whom the painter was named.

Gluck's American-born mother, Francesca Halle, was training to be an opera singer when she met her husband to be, a childless widower twice her age; they married six weeks after meeting. She was subject to what were then called nervous breakdowns, and in later life was confined to a mental asylum. Gluck's younger brother, Sir Louis Gluckstein, became a Conservative politician.

Gluck was a pupil at the Dame School in Swiss Cottage until 1910, and then at St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith until 1913.[1] That year, Gluck was awarded a Royal Drawing Society silver star.[3] Gluck attended St John's Wood School of Art between 1913 and 1916, after which the artist moved to the west Cornwall valley of Lamorna, joining the artists' colony there.[4][5] Gluck moved to Cornwall with fellow art student, and partner, E M Craig, (1893-1968), who was known by just their surname Craig.[1] Little is known about Craig, but the relationship was significant to Gluck, who often spoke in later life of how the two had run away together.[1] By 1918, they were living together in London, originally in a flat on the Finchley Road, then in a studio in Earls Court. For a time, they also maintained a studio in Lamorna.[1]

Persona and early career[edit]

In the artistic community of Lamorna, Gluck began to adopt a masculine appearance and to defy fashion and gender norms.[1] In 1916, Alfred Munnings painted Gluck smoking a pipe.[1] Gluck insisted on being known only by that mononym, "no prefix, suffix, or quotes",[6] and when an art society of which Gluck was vice president identified Gluck as "Miss Gluck" on its letterhead, Gluck resigned. In 1923 Romaine Brooks painted Gluck as Peter, a Young English Girl.[1] Gluck identified with no artistic school or movement and showed work only in solo exhibitions.

Gluck's work was displayed in a special frame which the artist had invented and patented in 1932.[1] The "Gluck frame" rose from the wall in three tiers, each tier smaller than the one behind it. Painted or papered to match the wall on which it was hung, it was designed to make the artist's paintings look like part of the architecture of the room.[3]

1920s and 1930s[edit]

In the 1920s and 30s, Gluck became known for portraits and floral paintings; the latter were favoured by the interior decorator Syrie Maugham. In October 1924, Gluck first had a solo exhibition, of fifty-six paintings, at the Dorien Leigh Galleries in South Kensington, London.[1] During 1925 Gluck painted a series of works depicting theatre scenes, which formed part of the 1926 Stage and Country exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London.[1] That year Gluck's father bought Bolton House in West Hampstead where Gluck, with a housekeeper, a cook and a maid, lived until 1939.[1]

By 1928, Gluck was sharing Bolton House with the author and socialite Sybil Cookson.[7] In 1931 the architect Edward Maufe designed and built a studio extension to the house.[1] The following year Gluck had another solo exhibition, Diverse Paintings, at the Fine Art Society and also began a relationship with floral designer Constance Spry, whose work informed the artist's paintings.[4][8] In 1934 Gluck and Spry spent some time at Hammamet in Tunisia.[1]


Medallion (1937) depicts Gluck (right) with Nesta Obermer (left).

In May 1936, Gluck spent a weekend with Nesta Obermer at the Obermer family home, Mill House at Plumpton, East Sussex, and later declared 25 May as their wedding day.[1] Gluck ended the relationship with Spry and held a bonfire of personal letters, diaries and paintings at Bolton House.[1]

One of Gluck's best-known paintings, Medallion, is a dual portrait of Gluck and Nesta Obermer, inspired by a night in 1936 when the lovers attended a Fritz Busch production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.[9] According to Gluck's biographer Diana Souhami, "They sat together in the third row and felt the intensity of the music fused them both into one person and matched their love." Gluck referred to it as the "YouWe" picture.[10]

In 1937, Gluck had a third solo show at the Fine Art Society. The exhibition of thirty-three paintings, including Medallion, was attended by the Queen.[1]

Thirty year hiatus[edit]

While Gluck's early artwork was positively received by critics and the public through the 1920s and 1930s, it later fell from popularity.[9] As the painter's romantic relationship with Nesta came to an end, so too did Gluck's artistic career. There followed a thirty-year period of artist's block, until Gluck experienced a rejuvenation of creative energy at the end of the 1960s.[9]

World War II[edit]

In September 1939, Gluck closed Bolton House, which was then requisitioned by the Auxiliary Fire Service for war-time service, and moved to a cottage close to the Obermer home in Plumpton.[1]

Chantry House, Steyning, 2017

In 1943, Gluck met journalist Edith Shackleton Heald, and the two took holidays in Brighton and at Lyme Regis in Dorset. The following year, Gluck moved to Chantry House in Steyning, Sussex, and lived there, with Edith and her sister Nora, until their death in 1978.[11]

In 1944, Gluck had an exhibition at Steyning Grammar School.[1] In 1945, Gluck sold Bolton House but retained the studio, continuing to use it for a few years, eventually selling it in 1949 to artist and author Ithell Colquhoun.[1]

The "paint war"[edit]

In the 1950s, Gluck became dissatisfied with the paints available for artists and began a "paint war" to improve their quality. Gluck felt that some paints were grainy in consistency, or looked 'dead' on the canvas. Gluck also said that some paints changed their apparent colour according to the direction of the brushstroke, and that some took too long to dry.

Ultimately, Gluck persuaded the British Standards Institution to create a new standard for oil paints. However, the campaign consumed Gluck's time and energy to the exclusion of painting for more than a decade. During this time, Gluck and Edith acquired their second home at Dolphin Cottage, in Lamorna.[12]

Later life[edit]

In the artist's seventies, Gluck returned to painting, using special handmade paints that were supplied free by a manufacturer who had taken Gluck's exacting standards as a challenge. Gluck mounted another well-received solo show of fifty-two paintings from across their whole career.[8]

It was Gluck's first exhibition since 1944, and also the last. Gluck's last major work, begun in 1970 and completed in 1973, was a painting of a decomposing fish head on the beach titled Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Light; the title is taken from the poem "Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas.

In 1977, Gluck donated 57 items, including clothing, accessories and pieces relating to the time spent in Tunisia, to the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.[1]

Gluck died in 1978 in Steyning, Sussex at the age of 82.


In 1980, two years after the artist's death, The Fine Art Society hosted a six-week memorial exhibition of 45 of Gluck's paintings.[1]

In 1982, Virago Press chose Medallion, Gluck's self-portrait with Nesta Obermer, as the cover art for its mass-market paperback edition of The Well of Loneliness.[13] Virago reprinted the classic 1928 novel eight times in as many years, making Medallion perhaps one of the most famous depictions of a lesbian relationship.[1][14]

July-August 1998 saw a "a small but beautifully curated exhibition of some of the most memorable paintings" by Gluck, in Bexhill-on-Sea, at the De La Warr Pavilion.[15]

In 2017-2018, the painter was the subject of an exhibition at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, an accompanying book of the same title (Gluck: Art and Identity, Yale University Press), and an academic event at the London College of Fashion featuring the authors and curators Martin Pel, Dr Jeffrey Horsley and Prof Amy de la Haye.[16]

Gluck's painting Flora's Cloak (circa 1923) was acquired by Tate in 2019 "with funds provided by the Denise Coates Foundation on the occasion of the 2018 centenary of women gaining the right to vote in Britain".[17]

A 1942 self-portrait was donated by the artist to the National Portrait Gallery in 1973, and was used in the 2001-2002 exhibition Mirror Mirror: Self-Portraits by Women Artists.[18] The NPG also holds a photographic portrait of the artist by Emil Otto ('E.O.') Hoppé[19] Paintings by Gluck are held in major British public collections.

Gluck was commemorated with a Google Doodle in Britain and several other countries on 13 August 2023.[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w Amy De La Haye; Martin Pel, eds. (2017). Gluck: art and identity. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 9780300230482. OCLC 982593828.
  2. ^ Joan Comay, Who's who in Jewish History: After the Period of the Old Testament' (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995) p. 240
  3. ^ a b David Buckman (2006). Artists in Britain Since 1945 Vol 1, A to L. Art Dictionaries Ltd. ISBN 0-953260-95-X.
  4. ^ a b "Gluck". National Portrait Gallery. Archived from the original on 6 September 2017. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  5. ^ Caroline Fox (1985). Painting in Newlyn 1900-1930. Newlyn Orion. ISBN 0950657948.
  6. ^ Michalska, Magda (21 February 2018). "Gluck And Her No Prefix, No Suffix Queer Art". DailyArtMagazine.com - Art History Stories. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  7. ^ "Gluck and Modern British Women". studiointernational. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018. Retrieved 9 January 2018.
  8. ^ a b "Gluck Overview: The Fine Art Society". The Fine Art Society. Archived from the original on 7 November 2017. Retrieved 28 August 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Judah Hettie (1 February 2017), "Stunningly Modern Paintings by a Gender-Bending 1920s Artist", The New York Times, archived from the original on 26 August 2017, retrieved 2 February 2017
  10. ^ Diana Souhami (2001). Gluck: Her Biography (rev. ed.). London: Phoenix Press. pp. 121–122. ISBN 1-84212-196-0.
  11. ^ "Gluck-mania!". Newsletter Issue 5. Brighton Ourstory - Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual History Group. Winter 1998. Archived from the original on 25 July 2008. Retrieved 24 April 2009.
  12. ^ Smith, George; Smith, Margaret (2000). Some Lamorna Voices. Lamorna: The Lamorna Oral History Group. pp. 27–30.
  13. ^ Rebecca O'Rourke (January 1989). Reflecting on The Well of Loneliness. London and New York: Routledge. p. 98. ISBN 0-415-01841-2.
  14. ^ Great women artists. Phaidon Press. 2019. p. 154. ISBN 978-0714878775.
  15. ^ "Brighton Ourstory - Lesbian and Gay History Group". www.brightonourstory.co.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  16. ^ "Gluck: Trailblazer Of Gender Fluidity Presented In New Exhibition And Symposium". Artlyst. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  17. ^ Tate. "'Flora's Cloak', Gluck, c.1923". Tate. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  18. ^ "Gluck - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  19. ^ "Gluck - National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  20. ^ "Gluck's 128th Birthday". www.google.com. Retrieved 13 August 2023.

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