phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
Gluck: Art and Identity

Gluck: Art and Identity

3 December 2017 | Katie Da Cunha Lewin

The artist we now know simply as ‘Gluck’ was born Hannah Gluckstein in 1895 to a wealthy family in London. She became well-known as a painter, with ties to high society. She also became famous for her decision to wear men’s clothing, and was featured in society magazine and newspaper articles. Brighton Museum host the first ever retrospective about the painter.



Gluck’s work is probably best known in the form of a book cover: her painting ‘Medallion’, a joint portrait of herself and her lover Nesta Obermer, was used as the cover of the classic lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall.  This exhibition seeks to flesh out her reputation by analysing both her creative output and her life. Gluck’s popularity within society and by collectors has meant that many of her works have never been displayed; three paintings that have never been displayed. This exhibition encompasses some of her portraits of friends, families, and striking paintings of flowers. The three curators, Professor Amy de la Haye, Martin Pel and Jeffrey Horsley, use this exhibition not only to highlight her painting, but to also draw attention to the collection left to the museum by Gluck herself the year before her death; interestingly, the clothing and objects donated were not the masculine tailoring she herself wore, but floral dresses and black evening wear. They take an innovative approach to this unusual archive by asking what ‘evidence’ of life means, and posing questions about why Gluck donated these objects.
 
Gluck’s paintings vary in subject matter. Many of her early works are portraits of family members or friends; two portraits of a brother and sister hang next to each other, shown in public for the first time. The striking ‘Lords and Ladies’ from 1936 depicts a white and green bouquet of lilies in a brown marble vase. The detail, particularly in marbling on the vase, is exquisite, showing Gluck’s skill with fine detail. Her portrait, ‘Spiritual’ of a young black man against a black background also shows her skill, and the sensitive facial expression of the young man shows her careful study of his personality. Gluck’s particular preference for showing her work was to set it in a three-tiered frame many of which are on display in this exhibition. These frames were designed to be painter or wallpapered over, specifically thinking about how to display them best in a modern and chic home.


 
The contents of the exhibition are also rather unusual and the curators explain that the layout comes directly from their attempt to queer the space. As visitors enter the room, the first display in the line of sight is a pinboard on which is a timeline of Gluck’s relationships; this, they explain, leaves visitors with no doubt about Gluck and the way that she lived her life.  They also include what they have termed an ‘intervention’, in the form of a box of love letters written to one of Gluck’s lovers.  These details provide visitors with more historical detail, as well intimate access to the life of someone now regarded as a trailblazer of gender fluidity. This theme of her unapologetic identity continues throughout the exhibition, in her disparate subjects of painting, as well as several photographs of her in masculine tailoring. In this, the exhibition explores the inability to categorise a single life, showing that one person can have multiple interests and work across different perspectives.


 
The second room thinks more about her life, and contains many of the objects she donated. Through this collection of costuming, as well as examples of costume jewellery and accessories, Gluck shows that her relationships were a defining aspect of her life. As well as an example of one of her artist’s smocks, there are also several dresses, including three evening gowns. Though in some of her papers she asserts that one of the gowns was made for her, the curators surmise that this was not the case through dressmaker measurements. Through this forensic archival work, the curators explore the problem of archive and memory, suggesting that love and community are paramount in self-definition.
 
This is a complex and interesting exhibition, in which issues of identity and memory are brought to the fore. Through the clear care and attention by the three curators, visitors gain an insight into the complexity of self and self-presentation, and learn more about an individual whose life was lived confidently and passionately.
 
Gluck: Art & Identity is at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery until 11 March 2018.

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Eglantyne: An Interview with Anne Chamberlain

Eglantyne: An Interview with Anne Chamberlain

Eglantyne Jebb just might be the most famous humanitarian you’ve never heard of. Born in Edwardian England in 1876, she devoted much of her extraordinary life…

Junkyard Golf Club Launching in Oxford in October 2017

Junkyard Golf Club Launching in Oxford in October 2017

Calling all crazy golf enthusiasts! Junkyard Golf Club is due to open in Oxford in October, so get ready for a hole lot of fun.

A Brighton Foodie Guide

A Brighton Foodie Guide

There remains a charm to Brighton. Who doesn't love spending a needless fiver on a penny arcade? Or touring the city's labyrinth-like Laines, full of…

A Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to Brighton

A Vegetarian and Vegan Guide to Brighton

We all remember the fish and chips, battered sausages and ice cream from childhood trips to the seaside. Luckily, Brighton has a lot to offer…

Alfie Ordinary: ‘Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous’ at the Brighton Fringe

Alfie Ordinary: ‘Help! I Think I Might Be Fabulous’ at the Brighton Fringe

The devastatingly fabulous Alfie Ordinary presents a hilarious and heart-warming tale of pride, shame and masculinity.

A Certain Kind of Light at the Towner Gallery

A Certain Kind of Light at the Towner Gallery

It’s frosty outside and those sun-soaked holidays on the south coast suddenly seem very far off. Stay too long on the Eastbourne seafront this February and…

Oxford art collective, Intermix Jungle, talk about their upcoming pop-up

Oxford art collective, Intermix Jungle, talk about their upcoming pop-up

Art, music, design, performance: all within one space. Intermix Jungle is a new collective of over 20 young Oxford-based artists, whose first venture is a…

Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival: What to See

Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival: What to See

The Bristol Jazz & Blues Festival returns 16 March for three days bursting with live music. This year’s festival has a whole host of swing kings…

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Winter Warmers

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Winter Warmers

Christmas is coming and the geese are getting fat, but there’s still time for just one more set of recommendations to find the very best Bristol…

Gig Review and Interview: JAWS

Gig Review and Interview: JAWS

Is guitar music dead? It’d be easy to dismiss the genre as utterly exhausted. After all, how much variation of that well-known format can there possibly…

{ad_alt}

Most popular

Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2017

Exhibitions to Look Forward to in 2017

We take a look at what will be gracing galleries in 2017.
Theatre to Look Forward to in 2017

Theatre to Look Forward to in 2017

We look forward to the best theatre, opera and ballet on offer this year.
On Record: An Interview with Sophie Willan

On Record: An Interview with Sophie Willan

We talk to Sophie Willan about her experiences of social care and mental health, and her sell out comedy show.
NYE in Bristol: A Guide

NYE in Bristol: A Guide

Renown for its incredible nightlife and rich music scene, NYE in Bristol is not one to be missed.
Bristol Film Festival: An Interview with Founder and Director Owen Franklin

Bristol Film Festival: An Interview with Founder and Director Owen Franklin

From a screening of Jumanji in the Bristol Museum to The Descent in underground caves, the Bristol Film Festival offers a unique and immersive experience which Owen Franklin, the founder and Director, tells Culture Calling all about.
An interview with the Thinking Drinkers

An interview with the Thinking Drinkers

The Thinking Drinkers chat to Culture Calling about their new show 'History of Alcohol' and offer some boozey reccomendations.
Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Winter Warmers

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Winter Warmers

Winter isn't all bad - enjoy the food, drink and activities the season has to offer.
24 Hours in Chester

24 Hours in Chester

Dating back to the Roman period, there is a wealth of things to do, see and eat in the walled city.
Top 5 Cafes and Coffee Shops in Leeds

Top 5 Cafes and Coffee Shops in Leeds

The Northern city is brimming with places to enjoy a cup o’ Joe, from traditional cafes to vintage tearooms and coffee-cum-record shops.
A Weekend Away in Winchester

A Weekend Away in Winchester

From beautiful scenery to fascinating history and picturesque pubs, the city has it all.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!