Gluck by Gluck

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Self portrait of Gluck by Gluck
Gluck, the twentieth-century painter who adopted a genderless name and presented as gender non-conforming.
Gluck
by Gluck
oil on canvas, 1942
12 in. x 10 in. (306 mm x 254 mm)
NPG 6462
© National Portrait Gallery, London
On display in Room 29 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

Gluck (1895–1978) was a twentieth-century artist known particularly for portraits and floral paintings.

The artist was born Hannah Gluckstein but adopted the genderless name ‘Gluck’ in 1918. Gluck chose to reject the strict Gender norms Ideas about how women and men should be and act. of the time, wearing clothes traditionally worn by men, choosing short, cropped hair and smoking a pipe.

Gluck made it clear that no prefix (such as Miss or Mr) should be attached to the artist's name. Since we cannot know if Gluck would have chosen to use alternative pronouns, the artist is simply referred to as ‘Gluck’ or ‘the artist’ in this resource, rather than ‘they’.

Analysing the portrait

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A painting of a white person with short brown hair parted to one side, and wearing a patterned yellow scarf tucked inside a high collar.
Gluck, by Gluck, 1942

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a whole minute. What can you see?

    • The self-portrait is a close-up of Gluck’s head. It is painted in a realistic style. 
    • Gluck’s head is tilted back. We can clearly see Gluck’s nostrils, closed lips, and eyes looking out and downwards at us, the viewer. 
    • Gluck has painted what appears to be an honest and accurate self-portrait. We can see lines around the eyes and mouth, and on Gluck’s forehead. 
    • Gluck’s pose and expression, with a jutting jawline and an upwards tilt of the head make the artist appear confident, proud and defiant.  
    • Although Gluck looks confident, it’s perhaps possible to see a sadness and weariness in the Gaze The relationship of looking between sitter, artist and viewer. .
    • We can see a patterned scarf tucked inside a high collar.
    • Gluck is not wearing any jewellery or make-up.
    • Gluck’s hairstyle and what we can see of the artist’s clothes appear traditionally Masculine Having the qualities or appearance considered to be typical of men; connected with or like men. for the time. This reflects Gluck’s choice to be Gender non-conforming Not following or going along with the gender roles that society expects. . 
    • Gluck has painted the self-portrait using oil paint on canvas. 
    • Gluck has used the paint thinly, and the woven texture of the canvas is visible through the paint. 
    • If you look closely, you will see that Gluck has used quick, sketchy brush strokes, especially for the scarf – with areas of underpainting showing. 
    • Individual brushstrokes can be seen in the dabs of paint Gluck has used to mould the features of the face. These can be seen clearly in the shading around the cheekbone and jaw.  
    • The composition is cropped closely to Gluck’s head and the small area of background that we can see is plain. This makes us focus on the face.  
    • Gluck has used a muted Colour palette A particular range or set of colours used by an artist. of tans and flesh tones with a pale grey background. Although the scarf is more colourful, the colours still look Subdued Colours that are not bright. . These muted colours perhaps reflect Gluck’s mood at the time the self-portrait was painted. 
    • This colour palette might also reflect the influence of American portrait painter Romaine Brooks, who Gluck met and painted with in the 1920s. Brooks is known for portraits painted in subdued colours.
Please return in good condition to Gluck, no prefix, suffix or quotes.
Gluck's words on the back of publicity prints

Who was Gluck?

  • Gluck was born Hannah Gluckstein into a wealthy, Jewish family.
  • As a young adult, the artist rejected the life people would have expected a wealthy, privileged woman to live at this time. Gluck adopted a shortened version of the family surname and began wearing clothes traditionally worn by men.
  • At the age of 21, Gluck received enough family money to buy an artist’s studio in Lamorna, Cornwall. Gluck chose to live and paint in this area because of the unique quality of its light and colours, the inspiring scenery and because it attracted other artists.
  • Gluck had relationships with a number of women, who heavily influenced the artist’s work. 
  • This included the designer and florist Constance Spry in the early 1930s. Gluck created detailed paintings of flowers, which Spry incorporated into her designs. In turn, Spry made Gluck’s style popular and fashionable with wealthy women.
  • One of Gluck’s most famous portraits is a double portrait called Medallion. It shows Gluck with the artist’s partner at the time, Nesta Obermer. It is a celebration of their relationship, but was seen as Subversive Someone or something that undermines the authority of a system or society by attacking it secretly or indirectly. when it was painted in 1936. Today it is often viewed as an iconic Lesbian A woman sexually attracted to other women. portrait.
  • In 1932, Gluck designed the ‘Gluck frame’, a layered picture frame painted or papered to match the wall. It became a popular part of Modernism A style and movement in art, architecture and literature popular in the early 1900s in which modern ideas, methods and materials were used rather than traditional ones. and Art deco A popular style of art in the 1920s and 1930s that has geometric shapes with clear outlines and strong colours. interior design.
  • In the 1950s, Gluck became famous for a successful campaign to improve the quality of paint for artists. The campaign was something the artist was very serious about, taking time away from painting to concentrate on it.

Why is this portrait significant?

  • The portrait was painted at a time that was very limiting for women and when Lesbian A woman sexually attracted to other women. relationships were not generally recognised in society.
  • This self-portrait reflects Gluck’s strong character and brave determination to live by the artist’s own rules, not by the expectations of society or the artist’s family.
  • It also marks a difficult time in Gluck’s life, when the artist’s relationship with Nesta Obermer was breaking down. The relationship has been described as ‘intense and all-consuming’. Gluck described it as a marriage, even though Obermer was already married to a man.

Questions

  1. What overall impression of Gluck do you get from this self-portrait?
  1. What would you want a self-portrait to say about you or your identity?
  1. Find out more about artist communities in Cornwall, such as the Newlyn School and the Penwyth Society of Arts.