Fierce Individuality

Fierce Individuality

The Fine Art Society, London, hosts a major retrospective of the British painter Gluck (1895-1978), shedding light on one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Featuring 32 compositions, the exhibition takes a holistic approach to Hannah Gluckstein’s fascinating life, work and legacy, demonstrating the continuing cultural influence. Having been born into a wealthy family, the artist rejected conventions; by the age of 23, she had adopted the iconic nickname with “no prefix, suffix, or quotes”, smoked a pipe, wore men’s clothing and cropped hair. This stylistic choice was highly significant in the advent of the century, wherein sexism and inequality still pervaded society. But with the rising influence of group such as the suffragettes, attitudes began to change.

It was the 1920s and 1930s that saw the practitioner move into the London art scene, quickly gaining recognition for portraiture of glamourous women and intricate still-lifes. Taking inspiration from the flower arrangements of Constance Spry, a fashionable society florist, the highly stylised pieces were characterised by a precise and sophisticated creative approach. The show also features one of the best-known paintings – Medallion (1937) informed by a night at the opera in 1936.

Fiercely individual, the Gluck neither identified or collaborated with industry schools or movements, showcasing work only in solo exhibitions and presented on a special frame that had been personally invented and patented. The appropriately named “Gluck Frame,” was a three-tiered design, painted to match the gallery wall on which it hung – giving the illusion that each piece was an integral part of the room’s architecture. This inventive solution is individually celebrated, and was featured throughout the 1930s.

The Fine Art Society has a long history with Gluck, staging five displays from 1926 to 1978. The most recent corresponds with Women Artists: A Conversation, in which a group of contemporary figures respond to the continuing legacy of the seminal 20th century figure.

Gluck, The Fine Art Society, London, until 28 February.

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Howard Coster, Gluck (1924). Courtesy of the Fine Art Society.