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Medallion (1937) depicts Gluck (right) with Nesta Obermer.
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Hannah Gluckstein, known as Gluck (13 August 1895 – 10 January 1978) was an unconventional British painter.

Life and career

Gluck was born into a wealthy Jewish family in London. Gluck's father was Joseph Gluckstein, whose brothers Isidore and Montague had founded J. Lyons and Co., the coffee house and catering empire. Gluck's American-born mother, Francesca Halle, was an opera singer. Her brother, Sir Louis Gluckstein, was a Conservative politician.

Gluck attended St John's Wood School of Art between 1913 and 1916 before moving to the west Cornwall valley of Lamorna and joining the artists' colony there.[1][2] In the 1920s and 30s Gluck became known for portraits and floral paintings; the latter were favoured by the interior decorator Syrie Maugham. Gluck insisted on being known only as Gluck, "no prefix, suffix, or quotes", and when an art society of which she was vice president identified Gluck as "Miss Gluck" on its letterhead, Gluck resigned. Gluck identified with no artistic school or movement and showed her work only in solo exhibitions, where it was displayed in a special frame Gluck invented and patented. This Gluck-frame rose from the wall in three tiers; painted or papered to match the wall on which it hung, it made the artist's paintings look like part of the architecture of the room.

One of Gluck's best-known paintings, Medallion, is a dual portrait of Gluck and her lover, Nesta Obermer, inspired by a night in 1936 when she attended a Fritz Busch production of Mozart's Don Giovanni.[3] 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.[4] It was later used as the cover of a Virago Press edition of The Well of Loneliness.[5] Gluck also had a romantic relationship with the British floral designer Constance Spry, whose work informed the artist's paintings,[6] and with author and socialite Sybil Cookson.[7]

Chantry House, Steyning, 2017

In 1944 Gluck moved to Chantry House in Steyning, Sussex, living with her lover Edith Shackleton Heald until the latter's death in 1976.[8]

In the 1950s Gluck became dissatisfied with the artist's paints available and began a "paint war" to increase their quality. 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. Gluck and Heald had a second home at Dolphin Cottage, in Lamorna.[9]

In her seventies, using special handmade paints supplied free by a manufacturer who had taken their exacting standards as a challenge, Gluck returned to painting and mounted another well-received solo show.[6] It was Gluck's first exhibition since 1937, and her last: she died in 1978.

Gluck's last major work was a painting of a decomposing fish head on the beach entitled Rage, Rage against the Dying of the Light.

External links


  1. "Gluck", National Portrait Gallery.
  2. Caroline Fox, "Painting in Newlyn 1900-1930" (Newlyn Orion, 1985) ISBN=0950657948.
  3. Judah Hettie, "Stunningly Modern Paintings by a Gender-Bending 1920s Artist", New York Times, 1 February 2017
  4. Diana Souhami, Gluck: Her Biography (London: Phoenix Press, 2001) pages 121-12.2 isbn = 1-84212-196-0
  5. Rebecca O'Rourke, Reflecting on The Well of Loneliness (Routledge, London and New York) page98. isbn = 0-415-01841-2
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Gluck Overview", The Fine Art Society.}
  7. "Gluck and Modern British Women", studiointernational
  8. "Gluck-mania!" Newsletter Issue 5 (Winter 1998) Brighton Ourstory
  9. George Smith, Margaret Smith, Some Lamorna Voices (Lamorna: The Lamorna Oral History Group) pages=27–30.