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by Gluck
oil on canvas, 1942
12 in. x 10 in. (306 mm x 254 mm)
Given by the sitter and artist, Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein), 1973
Primary Collection
NPG 6462

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

The artist 'Gluck' was born Hannah Gluckstein, a member of the family that founded the Lyons & Co. catering empire. Gluck successfully crusaded for an improvement in the quality of artist's paint, lobbying for the use of cold-pressed oil and hand-ground pigments. She showed with the Fine Art Society in 1926, '32, '37 and finally in 1973 when her work was rediscovered. In the the 1940s she moved to Steyning, Sussex and lived there until her death in 1978. The artist is well known for her trademark 'Gluck Frame' which she designed to fit around her paintings making the moulding an integral part of a room's decorative scheme. This self-portrait is not in a 'Gluck' but a white 'Whistler' frame made by Rowley Frames and used by the artist in the 1940s for her smaller portraits.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Fashion Icons, p. 105
  • Rideal, Liz, Mirror Mirror: Self-portraits by Women Artists, 2001 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 September 2001 to 20 January 2002), p. 81 Read entry

    Born Hannah Gluckstein into the family that founded the L. Lyons & Co. catering empire, Gluck attended classes at St John's School of Art from 1913 to 1916 and then spent time at the artist's colony at Lamorna, Cornwall. It was there that she met Laura Knight, whose studio she later bought, Ella Naper, whom she also painted, and Alfred Munnings (1878-1959), who sketched her portrait. After leaving home around 1916 she had a brief spell painting portraits of shoppers at Selfridges department store. By 1918 she was calling herself Gluck, wearing men's clothes and smoking a pipe. She is best known for her trademark 'Gluck Frame', which she patented and registered, and which she designed to fit around her paintings, making the three-tiered moulding an integral part of a room's decorative finishes. These frames were included in two major exhibitions of British Art in Industry. They were particularly popular during the 1930s when Gluck also painted the 'modern' flower arrangements created by her then lover Constance Spry (1886-1960). In 1936 Gluck painted a double profile portrait to commemorate her 'marriage' to the writer and socialite Nesta Obermer (1896-1984), entitled Medallion, but she referred to it as YouWe. This work was intended to comment on the social divisions and difficulties of leading a lesbian life at that time.

    Gluck crusaded successfully for an improvement in the quality of artist's paint, lobbying for the use of cold-pressed oil and hand-ground pigments: her 'paint war' resulted in the formation of the British Standards Institution Technical Committee on Artists' Materials. Gluck also lectured on 'The impermanence of paintings in relation to artists' materials' at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1964. She exhibited with the Fine Art Society in 1926, 1932 and 1937, and in 1973, when this portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery, she wrote 'This will after all be my last one-man show and I would like to go out with a bang!' (Quoted in D. Souhami, Gluck, 2000, p.297.) In 1945 she moved to Steyning, Sussex, to live with the critic and journalist Edith Shackleton Heald (1885-1976), a former lover of the poet W. B. Yeats. Gluck lived there until her death in 1978. Examples of her work are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.

    Although this painting is small in scale, as was much of Gluck's work, it has tremendous presence. The artist's expression is simultaneously haughty and confident yet somehow sad and weary. The only real source of colour is a patterned kerchief— the rest is pale: white background, pasty-pink flesh tones, deep-brown eyes with matching short cropped hair. The artist's rigorous personality is implied by the clear focus on the head and the lack of flattery regarding her furrowed brow and clearly delineated lips.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 250
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 22, 185 Read entry

    Pine painted white, mitred and probably pinned, two layers of matt white paint possibly over a gessoed surface. 4 1⁄ 4 inches wide. With the damaged label of Rowley Frames, 140 Church Street, Kensington.

    Gluck's passion for framing, and for white frames in particular, was apparent at her 1932 exhibition at the Fine Art Society, where all her paintings were shown in three-step white 'Gluck' frames against white walls. 'The essential feature of the Gluck frame', according to a note in the catalogue of her 1937 Fine Art Society exhibition, 'is that it becomes part of any wall whatever its character, colour or period ... It can be painted the same colour as the wall, or covered with the same wall-paper, or made in any wall material'.1

    This slightly later self-portrait is in a white Whistler frame, a type which dates back in its white form to the late 1880s, and in its original gilt form, as used by Whistler, to the early 1870s. The portrait was given to the National Portrait Gallery by the artist following her exhibition at the Fine Art Society in 1973; she then wrote, 'I do so hope the Fine Art Society did not tint that frame, as they did others to go with the exhibition background, as the frame should be white'.

    Like the similarly framed Gluck landscape, Cottages below the Downs (with the Fine Art Society, 1995), the self portrait has the distinctive label in the Toulouse-Lautrec style of Rowley Frames of no.140 Church Street, Kensington.

    1 Diana Souhami includes a chapter on the Gluck frame in her biography, Gluck 1895-1978, 1988, pp 102-11.

  • Tinker, Christopher, Speak its Name! - Quotations by and about Gay Men and Women, 2016, p. 73

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1942back to top

Current affairs

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief is founded in Oxford with the aim of sending food through the Allied blockade of Nazi-Occupied Greece. The organisation continued after the war to relieve suffering as a result of the war in Europe, and eventually to help distressed peoples internationally. It gradually became known as Oxfam, after its telegraph address, and is now one of the largest international development and aid agencies.

Art and science

Desert Island Discs is broadcast for the first time. Each week a famous guest is invited to select which eight pieces of music they would choose to take if they were castaway on an island. The show is still going and is the longest running music programme on radio.
Enid Blyton publishes her first Famous Five children's book: Five On A Treasure Island.


The Allied forces sign the 'Declaration by United Nations', pledging the signatories to fight together until the end of the war and establishing an international organisation with the aim of upholding world peace and security with Sir Gladwyn Jebb as the first Secretary General.
In Berlin, senior Nazis plan the 'Final Solution' to exterminate European Jews, and start building death camps to carry it out.

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