Artist Stories

Gluck – No Prefix, No Suffix Queer Artist

Magda Michalska 23 June 2022 min Read

Since we celebrate Pride month in June, I want to join in the promotion of tolerance and raising awareness of the prejudices faced by LGBTQ+ people. Therefore, today we feature a queer British artist, Gluck, who chose to live the way she wanted, not compromising to social conventions.

Beginning

Hannah Gluckstein: Artist Gluck, Self Portrait, 1942, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.
Gluck, Self Portrait, 1942, National Portrait Gallery, London, UK.

Gluck was born in 1895 as Hannah Gluckstein. Her family was Jewish and owned the Lyons catering empire in London. Her parents were against her artistic dreams, but nevertheless, they trusted her a fund on her 21st birthday which allowed young artist to make a life of her own.

Gluck attended St John’s Wood School of Art between 1913 and 1916 before moving to west Cornwall and joining the artists’ colony in Lamorna where she bought a studio. However, Gluck didn’t want to be a part of any movement and always insisted on one-man exhibitions working her way on her own.

Persona

Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck, Lilac and Guelder Rose, undated, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, UK.
Gluck, Lilac and Guelder Rose, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, UK.

To create Gluck, the young artist chose this name and, to her father’s distress, began dressing androgynously in trousers and ties (she even posed for Tatler Society Magazine at the beginning of her career). However, Gluck didn’t chase fame, mostly painting flowers and portraits. “No prefix, suffix, or quotes,” wrote Gluck on the back of each of her prints to make obvious her choice.

Cheska Hill-Wood, gallery manager of the Fine Art Society, with which Gluck was connected, said:

It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be a woman, and it wasn’t that she wanted to be a man. She just wanted to be Gluck.

Therefore I will keep using a female pronoun, as the whole scholarship on Gluck does.

Love

Hannah Gluckstein, Gluck, Medallion (YouWe), 1936, private collection. Christie's.
Gluck, Medallion (YouWe), 1936, private collection. Christie’s.

In 1923, Gluck met the American artist Romaine Brooks, and the two painted portraits of one other. Brooks’s painting of Gluck, Peter (a Young English Girl) was very controversial because of the blatant androgyny of the sitter. Yet, the most important person in Gluck’s life was Nesta Obermer, a socialite married to an American businessman. Nevertheless, Gluck and Obermer symbolically married on May 25, 1936. Medallion celebrates the couple’s outing to Fritz Busch’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. As Gluck’s biographer wrote:

They sat in the third row, and she felt [that] the intensity of the music fused them into one person and matched their love.

Diana Souhami, Gluck: Her Biography.

It was the first public declaration of Gluck’s love and commitment. She wrote to Obermer:

Now it is out, and to the rest of the Universe, I call Beware! Beware! We are not to be trifled with.

 Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA.
Romaine Brooks, Peter (A Young English Girl), 1923-1924, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, USA.

A Break-Up

Gluck, Requiem, 1964, private collection.
Gluck, Requiem, 1964, private collection. Brighton Museum & Art Gallery.

With time, Gluck became very possessive and demanding with Obermer, who broke off their relationship in 1944. Moreover, she destroyed all evidence of their life together.

Gluck began a new relationship, as troubled as the one with Nesta Obermer, with Edith Shackleton Heald, the first female reporter in the House of Lords. Having moved into Healds’ house in Sussex, Gluck often argued with her and her sister Norma, and furthermore she retired from painting. However, in 1973 she organized an exhibition of 52 works at the Fine Arts Society which was very successful with critics and buyers.

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