Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) 1895-1978

Provenance

Private Collection, UK

Exhibitions

1973, London, The Fine Art Society, Gluck: A Retrospective
2018, St Ives, Cornwall, Tate St Ives (and tour), Virginia Woolf: An exhibition Inspired by her writings

Literature

Diana Souhami, 1988 Gluck her biography, Pandora Press p.43 (illustrated)

Gluck, born Hannah Gluckstein into the wealthy family that founded the catering empire J. Lyon Co., was famed for her individuality in art and personality. She rejected her conservative family, adopted the monosyllabic name, dressed in men’s clothing and lived openly with female lovers. Born in 1895, Gluck was brought up in Hampstead, London, and rejected university for art school. She studied first at St John’s Wood School of Art between 1913 and 1916 under Alfred Munnings before moving to Lamorna, Cornwall during the war years, where she resided with the artistic community of the Newlyn School including Munnings, the artist Laura Knight, Lamorna Birch and Ernest and Dod Procter. During the 1920s and 1930s Gluck became famous for her portraits of society figures as well as her formal flowerpieces, begun during her years with Constance Spry, as well as her powerful, jaunty self-portraits. Gluck also fought a long-running battle with suppliers of artists’ materials, the ‘paint war’, to standarise and improve oil paints. Gluck’s tumultuous relationship with society figure Nesta Obermer during the 1930s and into the 1940s was to dominate her life both during their time together and after the relationship ended. After she and Nesta parted, Gluck lived in Chantry House, Steyning, Sussex with Edith Shackleton Heald until her death in 1978. Gluck had solo exhibitions in 1924, 1926, 1932, 1937 and a retrospective in 1973 at The Fine Art Society, which also opened the Gluck Room in 1932 and with whom she had a long-standing association.

Gluck’s Portrait of Miss E.M. Craig from 1920 is a unique early portrait of arguably the most significant figure in Gluck’s rejection of convention and the beginning of her independent life. Craig was a fellow art student who, like Gluck, adopted a singular name although an adamantly masculine one. Together Gluck and Craig ran away from London together, setting up in a small, dilapidated cottage in Lamorna, Cornwall amongst a community of artists in 1916. These years were an idyllic period in Gluck’s life, painting works of her environment of the beach, the sun, the sea and the elements and spending her days with Craig and artist friends swimming, rock climbing, sunbathing, socialising, and working. Gluck’s parents, as a conservative Victorian family, strongly disapproved of Craig and their lifestyle, refusing to have Craig to stay in the family home, and ignoring all reference to her in Gluck’s letters. Gluck’s mother called her a “pernicious influence” and put their relationship down to a youthful infatuation, a “kink in the brain”.

The painting is an exquisite portrait of a person whom Gluck knew intimately, delicately handled yet full of vitality and expression. The commanding presence of Craig positioned against a plain off-white background emanates from the compact picture. She is a forceful character with huge hazel eyes commanding the viewer’s attention and heavy cropped fringe contrasting with her pale skin. Wrapped in a voluminous black boat with fur collar pulled up around her face, she holds it pulled tight with elegant hands bedecked with substantial gold rings. Gluck’s eye for physical manifestations of characterful personalities is evident in this early painting, a truly unique work in her oeuvre, and for biographical and artistic significance on a par with her iconic double portrait, Medallion (1937) of herself and Nesta Obermer. The painting is in its original frame, Gluck's iconic three-stepped wooden frame.