Hannah Gluckstein (Gluck). Part 3-Floral paintings and Constance Spry.

Gluck in the Gluck Room at The Fine Art Society

In 1932, by the time Gluck was thirty-seven years old, life could not have been better. She lived in Bolton House in Hampstead village with its newly-built large studio and was busy putting together a collection for that year’s Autumn Exhibition at the Fine Art Society in London. Her live-in guest and lover, Sybil Cookson, a journalist who had split from her racing driver husband, Roger Cookson had moved in to Bolton House with her two daughters. Gluck never wanted for anything financially as her mother always ensured that her daughter had everything she wanted from art materials, and clothes to covering the cost of repairs to her daughter’s house and car and as Diana Souhami wrote about this mother/daughter relationship in her biography of Gluck:

“…After the death of her husband, she [Gluck’s mother] let it be known to the other trustees that she favoured generous treatment for her daughter. What Gluck wanted, after her father’s death and before the outbreak of war, in any material sense, she received…”

Despite all that financial help Gluck was wary of her mother. She believed her mother to be unstable and Gluck was unhappy with her mother’s tendency of trying to control her life. Gluck had forged herself a place in “smart” society, a society which was sexually tolerant and not judgemental and whenever she tired of London social life she could take herself off to the tranquillity of Lamorna in Cornwall. Having said all that, one has to question her happiness at this time. Gluck eulogised about her love of the simple life and yet lived somewhat flamboyantly. She said that she flourished on exhilaration and yet she often yearned for peace and quiet. She would often be the soul of integrity regarding everyday mundane dealings of business and yet her integrity was often set aside when it came to her own infidelity and affairs with other men’s wives and it was this constant dichotomy which would cause her mental anguish.

Annette Mills and Muffin the Mule

It was Gluck’s infidelity which led to the ending of her time with Sybil Cookson just prior to her 1932 Fine Art Society exhibition when Sybil discovered Gluck and Annette Mills, in flagranti in the art studio. Mills would later become a household name for her TV role in Muffin the Mule in the 1950’s. Sybil deeply upset by Gluck’s infidelity immediately took her children and left Bolton House.

Gluck never lacked company and the loss of Sybil was soon forgotten as she moved on to her next lover. It is interesting to muse that her different lovers influenced her painting subjects. Whilst she was with the journalist and writer of romantic novels, Sybil Cookson, she would depict courtroom dramas which Sybil covered for her newspaper. She also painted portraits of Sybil’s family.

Constance Spry arranging flowers

Gluck’s next love affair was with the society flower arranger, florist and writer, Constance Spry, and throughout their four-year liaison she produced the most beautiful floral paintings. Constance Spry’s expertise was in much demand, as what she produced was looked upon by the monied upper-class as the height of sophistication and respectability. Constance Spry, who was nine years older than Gluck, had a very difficult early life. She had moved with the family to Ireland because of her father’s job. When she was nineteen she enrolled in a course for health lecturers and got a job in Dublin. In 1910, she married Irishman James Heppell Marr, a mine engineer from the north of England in and the couple had one child, a son, Anthony. The family then moved to Barrow-in-Furness. Their marriage, although it lasted six years, was doomed from the start. He was often moody and suffered from depression. But it seems that their wedding night was so brutal it shocked her for years to come, and despite Constance giving birth to a child, she would reject her husband’s sexual advances and he became increasingly violent.

Constance Spry at work

In 1921, she was appointed headmistress of the Homerton and South Hackney Day Continuation School in east London. It was here that she taught teenage factory workers in cookery and dressmaking, and later flower arranging. She gave up teaching in 1928 and opened up her first florist shop in 1929 in Pimlico which she called “Flower Decorations“. The name was to distinguish her work from the normal floral arrangements supplied by other florists. She would fill the shop with stock from her own garden and when necessary buy in some from Covent Garden. Soon Spry was inundated with orders and she had to recruit a dedicated team to cope with the increasing business. It was not just the floral arrangements which made Spry popular as she would rake through junk shops for unusual vases to hold her displays and she insisted that every arrangement should be composed in situ, as opposed to in her shop, so it would fit in perfectly with the surroundings. She looked upon herself and staff, not just as flower arrangers but as artists. Ever more commissions poured in and she had to move to a larger premises and it was important that her shop was in the midst of her wealthy clients and so in 1934 she took on the lease of a shop at No. 64, South Audley Street at the heart of Mayfair and business was so good that she eventually employed seventy staff.

The Pine Cone by Gluck

Whilst living in London, Constance met Henry ‘Shav’ Spry and they fell in love, although he was married at the time. Later they lived together and pretended that they were married. They eventually did marry when both Constance and Henry were divorced but the marriage was far from perfect with Shav having a long-running affair with one of her flower shop employees. It was around about this time, in 1932, that Constance Spry was introduced to Gluck by a mutual friend, Prudence Maufe, a trained architect and interior designer, and the wife of the architect, Edward Maufe, who designed Gluck’s new studio. Constance Spry had been asked by Prudence to present Gluck with a floral arrangement. In her letter to Gluck, dated January 4th 1932, Prudence wrote:

“…Edward and I are giving ourselves the pleasure of sending you up a Mixed Bunch of white flowers for your Studio. I have commissioned my friend Mrs Spry to do it and to ring you up when certain flowers which I have asked are procurable………………..I think she has a genius for flowers and you have a genius for paint, so that ought to make for happiness…”

Chromatic by Gluck (1932)

Val Pirie, an assistant of Constance Spry came to Gluck’s studio at Bolton House and slowly created the floral display using anthuriums, amaryllis, arums and tulips. The flowers in a Warwick vase were placed on a pedestal. Gluck was taken back by the beauty of the floral display and decided to paint it immediately. The finished work measured 122 x 119cms. It was the most painstaking and most spectacular of all her flower paintings and the finished work was entitled Chromatic and it became the centrepiece for 1932 show at the Fine Art Society  exhibition. It was sold to a private client. After the death of the owner it was sold to an art dealer. Gluck loved the painting so much that she tried to buy it back but the dealer refused to sell it to her.

Ambrose Heal’s furniture store on Tottenham Court Road

Gluck’s friend, Prudence Maufe, ran a show flat in the Mansard Gallery, on the top floor of Ambrose Heal’s furniture store in the Tottenham Court Road. This iconic company was behind some of Britain’s finest furniture. Ambrose Heal was also a lover of fine art and his involvement with painting and drawing went side by side with his training as a designer, manufacturer and retailer. It was this love of art and furniture design that Ambrose Heal set up the Mansard Gallery at Heal’s to exhibit the most ground-breaking art of the period. It was here that he showcased contemporary artists and designers. At the time, Prudence would exhibit Gluck’s paintings as well as weekly floral arrangements supplied by Constance Spry.

The Vernon Picture by Gluck (1937)

Derbyshire landowner, Lord Vernon of Sudbury Hall, a stately home near Uttoxeter, commissioned a painting of lilies by Gluck for his new London home, Vernon House in Carlyle Square. The finished painting became known as The Vernon Picture.

A Cornish Farmhouse by Gluck (Hannah Gluckstein) in its stepped white-painted ‘Gluck frame

The painting was in a frame which had been specifically designed and patented by Gluck in 1932. She was very protective of her patented design and had an antique furniture dealer and restorer, Louis Koch as the sole maker of the frame. In the Frame blog it describes the Gluck frame:

“…In the 1930s the artist Hannah Gluckstein (‘Gluck’) (1895-1978) went about framing her work from a much more austere viewpoint than Bloomsbury. She produced frames with a stark three-step profile, usually painted white, and which she patented as the Gluck frame. ‘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’…”

Still life by Gluck

Constance Spry’s work contributed to the fashion of the day – white interiors. Everything of the interior was to be white – white walls, upholstery, ornaments and flowers and it was said that 1932 was the year when the white fashion trend reached its peak. Constance wrote about her love of white flowers in her 1934 book Flower Decorations:

“…It is the interplay of light and shade, colour and shape in a thousand variations, that the delight of white flowers lies. It is subtle and distinct, cool yet brilliant and is a matter of endless experiment and pleasure…”

Lords and Ladies by Gluck (1936)

Constance Spry realised that Gluck’s artistic talent would work well with her floral displays in formulating perfect interior decorative design and she began to introduce Gluck to her upper-class and wealthy clients, including the Royal Family as well as leading interior designers such as Syrie Maugham, the leading British interior decorator of the 1920s and 1930s who was best known for popularizing rooms decorated entirely in shades of white. Her all-white drawing rooms featured in many fashion magazines and some would have Gluck’s Chromatic painting featured on one of the walls.

Datura, The Devil’s Altar by Gluck (1932)

One of Constance Spry’s favourite plants was the Datura. Gluck’s 1932 painting which is now at the Art Gallery Brighton, entitled The Devil’s Altar depicts two beautiful and delicate pendulous flowers hanging from the gnarled twigged stems of the Datura plant.

During her time with Constance Spry, Gluck and Constance would holiday in Tunisia, North Africa at Villa Hammamset, the home of Constance’s friends, Jean and Violet Henson. After Gluck’s relationship with Constance Spry ended she still remained friends with the Hensons, and a month after the split with Spry, Gluck travelled back there on her own. Gluck loved the North African lifestyle and would often dress in Arab clothes such as her androgynous outfit of white baggy trousers, a scarlet Neapolitan sash, yellow shirt and green jacket. If that was not eye-catching enough she would wear a geranium behind the ear and a Hammamet cap.

One of her pictures from those North African stays is a depiction of the head of a young Arab boy. She said that she was madly excited by the beauty and subtlety of the skin of the boy. She commented:

“…He is really delicious – A tiny delicate little head with a sad, far away look in his eyes…..God knows whether I shall get any of it. He can’t speak French and is very tiny and moves a great deal…”

Gluck, through Constance Spry’s social circle, now moved in high society and from this, gained numerous commissions and invites to society gatherings. One of the most memorable was when she was invited to a dinner party at Broadlands, the Palladian mansion by Molly Mount Temple who was the stepmother to Edwina, Countess of Burma. Gluck’s mother was so impressed by her daughter being invited to such a dinner party she allowed her to go there in her Rolls Royce driven by her chauffeur. Besides commissions to paint Broadlands and a portrait of Molly, the dinner party was another pivotal moment in Gluck’s life.

Nesta Obermer by Gluck

It was at one of these social gatherings that Gluck was introduced to society woman, Nesta Obermer, the second wife of an elderly American, Seymour Obermer. He had married Nesta in 1925 after the death of his first wife. He was thirty years older than Nesta. The couple led a jet-set lifestyle travelling around the world, wintering in Switzerland and spending many summers in Venice. Nesta, who despite being married, was destined to be Gluck’s next lover.

…………. to be continued


Most of the information for this blog came from the excellent book – Gluck: Her biography by Diana Souhami.
For a much fuller account of Hannah Gluckstein’s life, treat yourself to this biography.

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Hannah Gluckstein (Gluck). Part 2 – Artistic success and acclaim

This portrait of Gluck in her artist’s smock, taken in 1926 when she was 31, was by Howard Coster, a self-styled “photographer of men.”

Hannah Gluckstein left her family home in 1916 to go to Lamorna a village in west Cornwall to paint with three of her fellow St John’s Wood art students, including her best friend, a female who simply wanted to be known as Craig. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Lamorna became well-liked by artists of the Newlyn School. Gluck was delighted to be amongst a group of fellow artists such as Samuel John Lamorna Birch who on the advice of his friend and fellow artist Stanhope Forbes adopted the soubriquet “Lamorna” to differentiate him from a contemporary artist of his, Lionel Birch.

Gluck on a Hilllside by Alfred Munnings (1916)

Other artists in residence at the time were Laura Knight and her husband Harold, and Alfred Munnings who completed a sketch of Gluck dressed in a gypsy costume smoking a pipe.

Self Portrait and Nude by Laura Knight (1913)

At Lamorna, Gluck soon made friends with Ella Naper, a thirty-year old jeweller, potter, designer, and painter. Ella was a friend of Laura and Harold Knight and was featured as a nude model in Laura’s 1913 painting, Self-portrait, and Nude. Laura described Ella in her 1936 book, Oil Paint and Grease Paint:

“…[Ella was] an adorably lovely creature who when she chose, wore workman’s trousers, smoked a clay pipe and bathed naked off the rocks…”

Dozmare Pool on Bodmin Moor

Gluck stayed for a time in an old hut close to Dozmare Pool on Bodmin Moor with Ella and maybe her demeanour and dress rubbed off on her. The moor was often a wild place during adverse weather and offered spectacular landscape painting opportunities.

Gluck stayed in Cornwall in the summers and she and Craig would return to a flat in London, which Gluck’s father had financed, during the winters. Slowly she built up a large collection of paintings, fifty-seven in all, which she showed in 1924 at her first solo exhibition at the Dorien Leigh Gallery in London. All were sold, and with the money raised she was able to move from her Earls Court studios to a larger studio in Tite Street in the borough of Chelsea, once used by the American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler.

Peter, A Young English Girl – Portrait of Gluck by Romaine Brooks (1924)

It was around 1923 that Gluck and her good friend, the American artist Beatrice Romaine Brooks arranged to do portraits of each other. Romaine’s portrait of Gluck was entitled Peter, a Young English Girl. Why the title? Although Hannah Gluckstein worked under the name of Gluck she preferred to be called Peter within her circle of friends. Gluck’s androgynous persona is accentuated by her clothing. We see her with a short, boyish haircut wearing a stylish jacket.

Romaine Brooks, Self-Portrait, 1923

Both Brooks and Gluck were attracted to women and the current style of menswear-inspired fashion suited them. It was the wearing of such clothes that allowed upper class lesbians to identify one another while at the same time staying unobtrusive. Many looked upon this way of dressing as just a rich woman’s idiosyncratic take on wealth and fashion. Gluck’s portrait of Romaine Brooks was never finished. Gluck had set up a large canvas and invited Brooks round to her studio but things did not go well between sitter and artist. Gluck wrote a note about the sitting:

“…Romaine wasted so much sitting time in making a row that at last I was only left an hour in which to do what I did – but my rage and tension gave me almost superhuman powers…… she insisted I should do one of my little pictures. I refused so she left me with the unfinished portrait. However I had to give away many photographs of it to her friends…”

Gluck painted over the unfinished canvas !!

London Trocadero

One of the most popular night-spots in London between the wars was the London Trocadero. Originally opened in 1896 it was just a restaurant, owned by J.Lyons and Co., one of Gluck’s uncles’ businesses. In 1924 her uncle Montague Gluckstein asked Charles Cochran, an English theatrical manager and impresario, to stage a cabaret in the grill room of the restaurant. From then until the start of World War II cabarets ran continuously at this venue and one of the regular attendees was Gluck.

Three Nifty Nats by Gluck (1926)

In her 1926 painting, Gluck depicted one of Cochran’s song and dance acts, The Three Nifty Nats performing their dance routine. For Gluck this was one of her true art deco pieces. This along with forty-three other works by her featured in her Stage and Country exhibition which opened at the Fine Art Society in Bond Street in April 1926. The paintings on show were a mix of her life in Cornwall and her life in London. For the opening event Gluck had styled her hair in an Eton Crop, a haircut which often involved trimming off a woman’s flowing locks in favour of the tapered look sported by men. She was dressed in breeches, a man’s soft hat, and smoked a pipe. The art reviewer, Onlooker, for the Daily Graphic wrote about his initial encounter with Gluck at the opening of the exhibition:

“…I addressed him naturally as “Mr Gluck”……It was with considerable shock that I found myself being answered in a soft voice, essentially feminine. I do not know that I should altogether like my own wife or my daughters to adopt Miss Gluck’s style of dressing her hair or clothing her limbs, but I do know that I should be proud of them if they could paint as well as Miss Gluck paints…”

Self Portrait with Cigarette by Gluck (1925)

Another painting on show at the exhibition was her self-portrait, entitled Self-portrait with Cigarette which she had completed the previous year. The exhibition was a great success and her work was highly praised by the art critics of the day. She was lauded as a painter of her time and strangely no report gave mention of her connection with the prosperous and very wealthy Gluckstein family. It would be interesting to know what Gluck’s father thought of the exhibition with his daughter’s picture wearing men’s clothing splashed across many of the daily newspapers. Perhaps he was thankful that the Gluckstein name did not figure in the media outpourings! All Gluck’s works on show were sold. This prestigious London gallery was to become the home for all her future exhibitions.

Bolton House, Windmill Hill, Hampstead (1909) once owned by Joanna Baillie

In 1926, Gluck’s father gave his daughter twenty thousand pounds and bought her a new place to live – Bolton House, Windmill Hill in the heart of Hampstead Village. It had been the home of the poet and dramatist Joanna Baillie for the last fifty years of her life. It was a large three storey red-brick Georgian building with an impressive wide drive. Gluck went to live there along with a housekeeper, a maid, and a cook. She also had a car which gave her easy access to her beloved Cornwall and her “Letter Studio” in Lamorna which was once owned by Laura Knight.

Sir James Crichton-Browne by Gluck (c.1930)

Gluck did not remain alone in Bolton House for long as in 1928, Sybil Cookson, the granddaughter of Sir James Crichton-Bowne, a leading British psychiatrist, came with her two young children to live with Gluck. On visiting Bolton House to see his granddaughter he had seen Gluck’s paintings and commissioned her to paint his portrait which she completed that year. Sybil Cookson was a journalist and romantic novelist. She had left her husband, a well-known racing driver, to go and live with Gluck. She was fascinated and in awe of Gluck. She believed she was living with an artistic genius. Soon she was running Bolton House for Gluck. During the summers Gluck, Sybil and her two children would go and stay in Lamorna.

As a journalist, Sybil also wrote about boxing, and her stories of the ancient art form of pugilism induced Gluck to paint several boxing scenes, one of which was entitled Baldock versus Bell at the Albert Hall.  Teddy Baldock was a very popular Eastender, and one time world champion.  Whenever he fought numerous coaches carrying his supporters left Poplar in the East End of London to cheer him. When he met Archie Bell at the Albert Hall on 5 May, 1927, no less than 52 crowded coaches made their way out of the East End, heading for Kensington like an Army convoy.

Baldock versus Bell at the Royal Albert Hall by Gluck (1927)

Gluck’s brother Louis returned home from the war in 1918 and went to live with his parents. He stayed with them until he married in 1926. There was a major problem with Louis marriage to his wife Doreen as she neither got on with Gluck nor her mother-in-law. Gluck’s father died on November 30th, 1930 at the age of 74. Right up to the end Joseph Gluckstein hoped his daughter would change her ways. He must have realised his end was near as he was able to sort out all his financial affairs before he died. He also wrote a farewell letter to his wife Francesca.   In it he wrote poignantly about Gluck:

“…I hope that our dear Hannah may so develop as to be like her dear mother, which to my mind embraces the wish that she will be a model woman…”

At the same time, he wrote a letter to his son Louis:

“…And now my dear boy adieu. I am most grateful for all the happiness you have given me from the day of your birth. You have been a true model son and I can say that no son has ever given to his parents more happiness than you have to yours…”

He did not write a letter to his daughter.

Sadly, their father’s death marked the end of the very good relationship Gluck had had with her brother Louis who, along with his mother, had been made the main trustee of his sister’s finances and this upset and annoyed her to have her younger brother control the purse strings.

Spiritual (Study of a Negro Head) (1927) by Gluck.

In 1927 she completed a portrait entitled Spiritual which came into being because of a bet. At a party Gluck had been talking about painting and how light played a big part in any work. A friend of hers commented that it would be impossible to paint a black face against a black background. Gluck was up for the challenge and advertised in a newspaper for a black person to model and her picture of him successfully proved that she could portray a black person against a black background.

Gluck’s Studio at Bolton House

Gluck enjoyed life at Bolton House and converted a small outhouse at the bottom of her garden into her studio. It had once been home to a small pony. However, in 1931 the outhouse was demolished and in its place was built a magnificent new studio designed by her architect friend, Edward Maufe, later Sir Edward Brantwood Maufe. The new building cost Gluck £1500. To get from the house to the studio she had to walk over a Maufe-designed stone-paved garden flanked by flowerbeds and a central lily pond which received its water from a concrete fountain. Bolton House and the new studio gained a lot of media attention because of their beauty and in the House and Gardens magazine of July 1935 a three-page spread was set aside extolling the beauty of the two buildings:

“…Miss Gluck, the well-known painter, is the happy possessor of an unspoiled Georgian House and a completely modern and efficient studio, separated from it only by a paved courtyard, with flower beds reflected in a shallow lily pool…”

Sir Edward Maufe by Gluck (1945)

In 1945 Gluck completed a portrait of Maufe at work in his studio.

Portrait of Miss Margaret Watts by Gluck (c.1930)

Margaret Watts was the daughter of the illustrator Arthur Watts, who was a neighbour of Gluck’s in Hampstead. Gluck painted a portrait of Margaret Watts aged 21 depicting her as a fashionable young woman.  Margaret later became a costume designer.

……..to be continued

In the final part of my look at the life and art of Gluck I will be examining how two females she had affairs with influenced her work and how her love for one of them culminated in one of her best known and best loved works of art.


Most of the information for this blog came from the excellent book – Gluck: Her biography by Diana Souhami.

For a much fuller account of Hannah Gluckstein’s life, treat yourself to this biography.

Hannah Gluckstein (Gluck). Part 1 – the rebellious daughter

Often when I look at portraits I talk about the reason the background is plain so not to detract from the person being portrayed. My featured artist today was a person who wanted to be remembered for her art but her exuberant and unconventional lifestyle was often what most people focused on. Today I want you to meet Hannah Gluckstein who was born in London on August 13th, 1895.

Self Portrait by Gluck (1942)

Hannah Gluckstein was born into an extremely wealth Jewish family. Her father was Joseph Gluckstein. He was involved in the family’s tobacco retail business, Salmon & Gluckstein which advertised itself as The Largest Tobacconist in the World. His brothers Isidore and Montague along with Joseph Lyons, the cousin of Isidore’s wife Rose, founded the British restaurant chain, food manufacturing, and hotel conglomerate, J. Lyons & Co in 1884. Hannah’s mother was the American-born opera singer Francesca Halle. She was Joseph’s second wife. His first wife Kate, a cousin, whom he married in 1882 died childless in 1889. Joseph, then aged thirty-eight, and Francesca, aged nineteen, married in September 1894 after a whirlwind courtship lasting just six weeks. After the marriage the couple returned from their American honeymoon and went to live in a purpose-built house in West Hampstead. Eleven months after the marriage Hannah was born. Eighteen months later her brother, Louis was born. Francesca’s career as a soprano ended when she married, as her husband had made it crystal clear that no wife of his would work for a living. Hannah would look back on this as the sacrifice of Art to Money. Francesca spent much of her time doing charitable work. She worked for the Jewish Board of Guardians, The Home for the Deaf, The Home for the Incurables and many more. Her role as a mother was in a way superfluous due to the large number of servants employed by her husband which included parlour maids, cooks, a nanny, a governess, a groom, and a coachman.

Self Portrait by Gluck

Hannah and her brother had everything money could buy. They were home educated by a Swiss governess and taught about the responsibilities of being part of their large family empire with all its responsibilities, opportunities, and wealth. Louis warmed to the task and did everything expected of him. He became a formidable public figure working as a British lawyer and Conservative Party politician. He was appointed a Deputy Lieutenant of the County of London in 1952 and was knighted in the Coronation Honours of 1953 for his services to the community. Hannah Gluckstein could not have been more different !!!

Hannah Gluckstein

In 1899, Francesca Gluckstein suffered the first of many nervous breakdowns and she and her family went for a protracted vacation to America to stay with her parents. Once there Hannah and Louis were left with their grandparents whilst their mother and father went off to tour the country. The family returned to England but in 1903 when Hannah was eight their mother was once again struck down with a nervous breakdown, this time much more severe and the Joseph Gluckstein uprooted his family from their West Hampstead home and travelled to France, Germany and Switzerland in search of a cure for his wife. The family did finally return to England in 1908 and went to live in a large mansion in St John’s Wood on the edge of Regent’s Park. Hannah attended a Dame School (an early form of a private elementary school) in the London borough of Swiss Cottage and two years later when she was fifteen attended the St Paul’s Girls’ School in Hammersmith. Although she would later maintain that she never learned anything at these schools and her education was gained due to her vociferous appetite for reading books. She did however receive many special prizes for drawing and painting.

Joseph Joachim by John Singer Sargent (1904)

During her time at school Hannah Gluckstein wanted to follow a career in the Arts but could not decide whether it should be through music, as she had a fine contralto voice, or art. Fate took over, for when she attended a St Paul’s pupils’ concert at the Wigmore Hall, she received heartening applause for her performance, and it was then that she decided on a career as a singer. She waited backstage for her next appearance on stage and was looking at photographs of famous musicians when she came across a photograph of John Singer Sargent’s 1904 painting Portrait of Joseph Joachim, the Hungarian violinist, conductor, and composer. She remembered the incident well:

“…Suddenly I faced the only photograph of a painting in the room – Sargent’s portrait of Joachim. There was a great swirl of paint and this hit me plumb in the solar plexus. All thoughts of being a singer vanished. The sensuous swirl of paint told me what I cared for most…”

However, her desire to leave school and train to become an artist and study art met opposition from both her father and the headmistress of her school, both of who wanted her to go onto university. Her art teacher came to Hannah’s rescue by convincing the headmistress that Hannah was a talented artist and should not be made to go to university. A compromise was finally agreed in which Hannah would stay on at school for another year, practice her art but also study the History of Art.

Following the extra year at St Paul’s Hannah went to art school. She had wanted to go to the Slade which was notorious for its liberal attitude to studies but her father decided that if she was to study art, and he had hoped it was just a passing fancy, then she would be enrolled at the St John’s Wood Art School which was close to where the family lived. She was not happy with the school. Later she wrote:

“…As far as I was concerned there was nothing taught that could be considered training…”

Portrait of Miss E M Craig (1920)

Those in authority at the school looked upon Hannah as just a very rich girl who wanted to dabble with art prior to marrying a rich husband. Hannah became very frustrated and this soon turned into rebelliousness. She became friendly with a fellow female student, who wanted to be simply known by her surname, Craig. Hannah Gluckstein felt an empathy for her new friend and demanded that from then on, she would be simply be addressed as Gluck. Her parents were informed of her decision that she was never again be addressed as Hannah !!

The Artist’s Grandfather by Gluck (1915)

In 1915 she painted a portrait of her grandfather which she completed in just sixty minutes!

Lamorna Cove (1859)

In 1915, the First World War was barely a year old and Gluck’s brother Louis had left home to volunteer for active service. Her mother was working hard to help the refugees and was barely ever at home. Her father was busy with his business which left Gluck on her own as she had refused to help with her mother’s charity work. Probably because of her unhappiness her parents allowed her to go to the artists’ colony at Lamorna in a valley in West Cornwall with Craig and two other art students. Here she loved to mingle with established artists such as Alfred Munnings and Harold and Laura Knight all of who would become part of the Newlyn School set up by Stanhope and Elizabeth Forbes. Gluck, this young and rebellious girl, was accepted into the group and would entertain them with her singing. She wrote about those happy days:

“…I was very spoiled by them all because they liked my singing, and we used to have a lot of music in the Knights’ huge studio. Little did I think then that this studio would one day be mine…”

Ernest Thesiger by Gluck (1925-26) English stage and film actor.

Gluck returned to the family home but had had a taste of freedom – a freedom from family restrictions. Alfred Munnings had wanted her to return to Cornwall and even offered to financially support her. Her father, desperate to keep his daughter offered to build her a studio at home but she refused to stay. Her father was hurt and refused to forgive her rebelliousness. He had worked hard all his life to provide a comfortable home for his family and his daughter had in one act of defiance thrown it all in his face. In July 1918, he wrote to his son, Louis:

“…I don’t think she will ever return permanently and that will always remain a cancer to me however I try to forget, I really shall never be able to…”

Sketching on the Moors by Gluck (1919)

Gluck was pleased to be back in Lamorna amongst the artists who used to  appraise her work. She lived with Craig in a primitive cottage. She delighted in being a rebel. She revelled in being who she wanted to be and do what she wanted to do without any parental or religious control. She began to wear male clothing and smoke a pipe. She and Craig stayed in Lamorna during the summer but returned to a rented flat in the Finchley Road in North London during the winter months.

Despite his acrimonious split with his daughter Joseph Gluckstein continued to support her financially by opening a bank account in her name and setting up trust accounts. Maybe this was his way of maintaining lines of communications with her. In a letter to his son dated November 6th, 1918, Joseph Gluckstein wrote:

“…I am only doing this to protect her against herself and also against me, as I won’t take the risk of her suffering financially, in case I feel inclined, through passion or otherwise to stop her allowance……….I told her I would allow her even more if she wanted it as my and mother’s sole idea was to make her happy…”

There were however financial restrictions which prevented her getting at all the money or that an undesirable man may try to marry her for her money. Gluck, although happy to have access to money, resented her father’s stance. Her father’s relations were very unhappy at how Gluck had treated “The Family” and were highly critical of Joseph Gluckstein’s generous financial settlement on his daughter. Furthermore “The Family” were horrified by Gluck’s behaviour, her outrageous way of dressing as a man and what they saw as her disreputable friends. Gluck’s mother hoped it was just a passing phase in her daughter’s life and blamed it all on Gluck’s female companion Craig. In a letter to her son in November 1917 she wrote:

“…Hig [the family’s nickname for Gluck] showed me her work from Cornwall and it was very fine, but she was in trousers and that velvet coat and when I see her dressed like that I am sure she has a kink in the brain and I go heartsick. I am sure when she leaves the pernicious influence of Craig all will be well…!

Both Gluck’s mother and father hoped that her friendship with Craig would end soon for her parents sincerely believed that their daughter would then return to “normality” but of course that was never going to happen. They also believed that her brother Louis, whom she loved, would talk her into reforming. However, Louis never tried to change the ways of his sister.

Before the Races, St Buryan, Cornwall by Hannah Gluckstein (1924)

Compared to many of her artist friends in Cornwall, Gluck had no financial problems. Living in the Lamorna artist colony was cheap and she also had her Finchley Road flat in London and had even rented two rooms in Earls Court as her studio, one for her painting studio and the other as a storeroom and a place to entertain friends. She was content with her life and spent most of her time putting together a collection of her work which she exhibited at solo exhibitions in London.  In 1924 her paintings were exhibited at the Dorien Leigh Gallery in South Kensington where fifty-seven of her pictures were on show. All were sold, and she could now afford to move to a bigger studio in Chelsea.

Three Nifty Nats, 1926

Two years later she had put together another selection of works which she exhibited in 1926 at the Fine Art Society in Bond Street. The latter location was to become the home for all her future exhibitions.

……to be continued

 

 


Most of the information for this blog came from the excellent book –  Gluck: Her biography by Diana Souhami.

 

Annie Louisa Swynnerton. Part 3 -The later years and the Royal Academy

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

In my third and final blog looking at the life and works of the talented Victorian artist, Annie Louise Swynnerton I wanted to firstly concentrate on some of her best loved paintings.

In 1880 she completed a work entitled The Tryst sometimes referred to as The Factory Girl’s Tryst. This remarkable painting was bought by Henry Boddington Jnr., the owner of the brewing empire which was not only Manchester’s largest brewery but one of the largest in the North of England. He later gave it to the Salford Art Gallery.

Tryst by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

The depiction features a night-time background scene with distant twinkling lights reflected on water behind the female figure. It could be that Annie got the idea of this background after seeing some of Whistler’s Nocturne paintings featuring the River Thames at night, which he completed in the 1870’s. The setting for Annie Synnerton’s work is thought to be Peel Park Lake, an urban park in Salford, Manchester and the park is situated on the flood plain of the River Irwell.  In the top right of the painting you can just make out an illuminated windmill and it is known that a mill stood on the bank of the river in the 1880’s.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne in Black and Gold – The Falling Rocket, (1874)

The meaning of the word tryst in the title of the painting refers to a secret meeting between lovers and this subject is a very popular one for the Pre-Raphaelite painters. The figure is of a young girl who is clutching her shawl around her body to fend off the cold. She has a worried expression on her face, a look of desperation, but why? We cannot hep feel for this vulnerable young girl. Her eyes are staring out as if she is looking for something or somebody, but what or who is she searching for?

The answer lies in a Manchester legend which Annie would have been familiar with. It is a legend of the love affair between a poor local girl, a mill worker, the daughter of a miller, and the son of the wealthy landowning Stanley family. She had come to the windmill to meet the young man, but he never arrived. His family had found out about the affair and were horrified by the liaison and so, to put an end to the relationship, they sent him away from home. The young girl was heartbroken when she heard what had happened and being so distraught threw herself into Peel Park Lake and drowned. The Stanley’s son on hearing of the death committed suicide. The boy’s father was so remorseful about sending his son away from home which resulted in the two suicides made it known that the windmill, the trysting place of the young lovers, must endure forever.

The Letter by Annie Swynnerton

Another painting which causes you to wonder what the depiction is all about is Swynnerton’s painting, The Letter, which is part of the Royal Academy collection in London and is a depiction of a favoured subject by many artists of the past. Receiving, reading, and writing a letter was a much-loved subject of artist for many centuries. Looking back at genre works by sixteenth and seventeenth century Northern Renaissance and Dutch painters many featured this subject.  It was a depiction that made viewers wonder about the story behind the painting.

Woman Reading a Letter by Gabriel Metsu (1665)

I can recall two wonderful paintings by Gabriel Metsu, prints of which I have on one of my walls at home, Woman Reading a Letter and Man Writing a Letter (see My Daily Art Display, Jan 22nd, 2014).

The Letter by Leonard Campbell Taylor

The subject was also popular in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century with British artists such as The Letter painted by the British painter Leonard Campbell Taylor.

Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window by Johannes Vermeer (1659)

Annie Swynnerton’s painting besides being about letter reading has another connection with a famous painting of the same subject, Johannes Vermeer’s painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window, as like Vermeer the person reading the letter is illuminated by natural light coming through a window, which symbolised the outside world. In the work by Swynnerton the way she has formulated the composition (101 x 48cms) its narrowness gives us a feeling that the girl is in some way confined in a restricted space which gives us a perception of claustrophobia. The contrast between the dark background and the illuminated figure of the girl with the painted highlights on her face, hair and dress enhances the three-dimensionality of the depiction. What is in the letter remains a mystery but whatever it is, it has the girl’s full attention.

Cupid and Psyche by Annie Swynnerton (1891)

Annie Swynnerton’s paintings often depicted nudes but couched them with mythological connotations probably to make them more acceptable to the Victorian public. Her best-known work of this genre was her 1890 painting Cupid and Psyche. The pair from Roman mythology were the favourite subject of many artists. According to mythology Cupid was sent by his mother Venus, who was jealous of Psyche’s beauty, to wound Psyche with one of his arrows and by so doing she would fall in love with a lowly man. The twist to the story is that Cupid falls in love with Psyche and makes her his wife, but he forbids her to look at his face to ensure the marriage remains a secret. The story then gets more complicated………

In the depiction we see Cupid on the right kissing Psyche. The depiction of the nudes differs from the normal idealized Academic-depicted nude paintings which were common in works by artists such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema or Frederic Leighton. Swynnerton has once again gone for an un-idealized portrayal of the human body. Look carefully at the way the artist has use an assortment of colours in the portrayal of the naked flesh including blue for the veins. Their bodies are illuminated by moonlight whilst, behind them, we see the light of the breaking dawn. The painting received mixed reviews from the critics, some of whom were startled by the depiction. Claude Phillips from the Art Journal praised Swynnerton writing:

“…her flesh-painting has a certain quivering reality not to be found in many renderings of the nude by contemporary English artists…”

But the art critic and one of the two ‘non-artistic’ members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Frederic George Stephens, writing in The Athenaeum commented on Swynnerton’s depiction of Psyche:

“…her features are coarse and blubbered, and her flesh is without the sweetness, evenness or purity of youth…”

Oceanid by Annie Swynnerton (1908)

Another of Annie Swynnerton’s mythological paintings, Oceanids, was completed in 1909 and is thought to have resulted from some plein-air painting at one of the crater lakes close to Rome and then completed in her studio in central Rome. Oceanids were goddess-nymphs who presided over the sources of earth’s fresh-water, from rain-clouds to subterranean springs and fountains. Along with the Oceanid there is another creature depicted in the painting but barely discernible in the bottom right of it. It is a sea serpent which co-habits with the Oceanid in the lake. What is so magical about this painting is the way Swynnerton has illustrated the translucency and movement of the water and could only have been achieved by carefully studying the water conditions of the lake and the way light played on the surface. It is also remarkable the way she has depicted the dappled light on the body of the woman. The expression on the woman’s face is one of great pleasure as she draws her hair out to be warmed by the rays of the sun. The painting was bought by Christiana Jane Herringham who was the daughter of Thomas Wilde Powell, an artist, and later a wealthy patron of the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1880 she married the physician Wilmot Herringham, (later Sir Wilmot Herringham) with whom she had two sons, Geoffrey, and Christopher. Lady Herringham was committed to women’s suffrage from 1889 onwards and had probably met Swynnerton through their mutual friendship with Millicent Garrett Fawcett. The painting is now part of the City of Bradford Museum collection.

Geoffrey and Christopher Herringham by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton completed a painting, of Jane Herringham’s two sons, Geoffrey, and Christopher Herringham in 1889 and the following year was exhibited at the New Gallery in London and at the Liverpool Autumn Exhibition. The rural setting is at the onset of evening with the sun setting in the blue-hilled background. Again, like so many of her figurative works, Swynnerton has focused on the natural light which illuminates the rosy-cheeks of the boys but also look at how the glimmering light is captured on the velvet jumpers worn by the boys. It is a depiction of happy childhood but alas their future was destined to be anything but happy. The younger son, Christopher, died of acute rheumatoid arthritis soon after the painting was completed, and Geoffrey was killed in 1914, during the first months of the Great War. He was 31. Their mother Jane died aged 77 in 1929 but spent many of her last years in a mental institution suffering from delusions of pursuit and persecution.

Autumn Leaves by John Everett Millais (1856)

The painting is often likened to that of John Millais’s 1856 work Autumn Leaves with its twilight setting and blue-hilled backdrop. Millais’ work is housed in the Manchester Art Gallery and must have been seen on many occasions by Swynnerton.

Margaret and Chrystian Guthrie by Annie Swynnerton (1907)

Another painting commission Annie Swynnerton received due to her connection with the woman’s rights campaign was to produce a portrait of the two daughters of American-born Mary Guthrie, the wife of David Charles Guthrie, 5th Baron of Craigie and East Haddon Hall. Mary Guthrie was a leading campaigner in the Northampton area for the Woman’s rights and it is through that connection that she met Swynnerton. In the painting entitled Margaret and Chrystian Guthrie we see her two daughters sitting on a window seat in East Haddon Hall. In the background we can see the extensive and opulent gardens. The children seem a little bit edgy and probably don’t like to waste time sitting for the portrait and prefer to be off playing. Look at the elder of the sisters on the left. She is almost desperate to lift herself off the seat and run away. The younger, with her back to us, looks over her shoulder and smiles but seems to prefer to concentrate on the sunny garden. The painting is a mass of colour and tones from the yellows, greens, and blues of the garden in the background to the pinks and reds of the sumptuous curtains and cushions we see in the room itself. The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1907.

In 1922 Annie Louisa Swynnerton was finally elected the first female Associate Member of the Royal Academy. One has to remember that Swynnerton had been regarded as a highly accomplished and talented artist since the late 1880’s so why the long wait for recognition by the Royal Academy? To find a possible answer to that question one must look at the Royal Academy establishment.

A 19th century illustration of the Royal Academy

The Royal Academy was founded in 1768 to publicise the arts, to deliver free tuition which would enable the talented, notwithstanding their means, to be taught to the highest standards. It was also committed to hold an annual exhibition which would be free to exhibitors and at which the works would be selected on merit. Thirty-six artists and architects petitioned King George III seeking his permission to establish a society which would promote the Arts.

The Academicians of the Royal Academy by Johan Zoffany (1772)

In a group portrait of the thirty-six founding members of the Royal Academy completed by Johann Zoffany in 1772, we see the members gathered around a nude male model at a time when women were excluded from such training to protect their modesty. For that reason, the two female founding members, Mary Moser and Angelica Kauffman could not be depicted as being present at the life drawing class but Zoffany added them as portraits hanging on the wall.

King George III agreed to the request and accorded it Royal status and helped subsidise it for the first decade. Its first president was Joshua Reynolds. To preserve the excellence of the establishment the numbers of Academicians would be limited to artists, sculptors and architects.  Later engravers were included. The 1768 Instrument of Foundation allowed total membership of the Royal Academy to be 40 artists. When Annie Swynnerton was elected the maximum permitted number was 42 and since then there have been two more changes to the rule and the maximum now stands at 80, but within that number there must always be at least 14 sculptors, 12 architects and 8 printmakers with the balance being painters. The maximum age of an Academician is set at seventy-five and once Academician reach that age they stand down and become Senior Academicians. So, when this happens or on the death of an Academician, a vacancy occurs.

Nominations Book of the Royal Academy

Anyone is eligible to become a Royal Academician, if they are under seventy-five years of age and professionally active as an artist or architect in the UK. Potential new Royal Academicians are first nominated by an existing Academician, who writes their name in the weighty Nominations Book. Signatures must then be elicited from eight other Royal Academicians in support of the nomination. At this stage the nominee becomes a candidate. In March, May, and December each year, all the Academicians meet at a General Assembly to vote in new Members from the list of candidates. There is no postal voting, so this is done entirely in person.

Oreads by Annie Louisa Swynnerton (1907)

So, to go back to the case of Annie Swynnerton. She was a respected artist. She was under seventy-five years of age and so she should have been a prime candidate, or was she? The Royal Academy in the last two decades of the nineteenth century was very male orientated and talk of electing a woman into the hallowed ranks was anathema to many Academicians. In 1907, when Annie was 63, her name was put forward by George Clausen following the positive response to her paintings which were shown at the Academy’s 1906 exhibition and by her painting Oreads shown in 1907. However, she failed to be elected. Seven years later, in 1914, her name was once again put forward by George Clausen but once again she failed to be elected. Annie may have been totally disillusioned with the way in which she had been treated by the R.A. and did not exhibit again at the Royal Academy for six years.

The breakthrough finally came in November 1922 when she was finally elected the first woman Associate Royal Academician. Full coverage across all newspapers hailed this not only a success for Annie but a success for women. She was delighted, and the Daily Mail of November 25th printed an interview they had with her and recorded her feelings at being so honoured:

“…I am much gratified at the honour bestowed on me, but true art needs no incentive; its work is its own reward. Professionally, though, this recognition of women artists should be a great help. It marks such a very long stage from my younger days, when women were not admitted to the Academy schools and it was difficult for them to get their best work exhibited…”

And that ended the saga – or did it? Those of you who are good at maths, knowing Annie Swynnerton was born in 1844, will have realised that when she was elected a Royal Academician in November 1922 she was 78 and that was three years past the cut-off date for being eligible to become a Royal Academician !!!!!!   It was thought that she would have to resign immediately. The proposed treatment of Annie outraged the national press. In an article in November 28th Daily News they did not mince their words:

“…Today the world sinks back in its chair overwhelmed with laughter and despair and the Academy is covered with ignominy. Surely there has never been so egregious a blunder, if indeed it was not something worse…”

They, like many people, could not decide whether it had been the Academicians’ carelessness and incompetence for not realising the age of Annie Swynnerton when her name was put forward on the third occasion or they were being devious and there was an element of conspiracy about the whole issue.  A compromise was finally reached and Annie Louisa Swynnerton was made a Senior Associate Academician but, because of her age, could never be raised to full membership.

Annie Swynnerton’s Grave, St Mary’s Church, South Hayling

Annie Swynnerton’s sight began to deteriorate towards the end of her life, but she continued to exhibit pictures at the Academy, although they were often works she had painted years earlier. She died on October 24th, 1934 at the age of eighty-eight at her home on Hayling Island, near Portsmouth, leaving a studio full of 170 pictures, all but 12 of them unfinished and unframed.

Annie Louisa Swynnerton, besides being a very talented painter, was a fighter. Her determination was the key to success. She overcame many difficulties and what she achieved was a beacon of light which inspired many female artists who followed to press ahead with their fight against institutionalised prejudice against female artists.


Most of the information for my three blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery, which you should try and visit.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner.

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson.

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

Annie Louise Swynnerton. Part 1 – the early years.

Portrait of Annie Swynnerton by Gwenny Griffiths (1928)

The media these days is full of articles and comments about the lack of equality suffered by women in all walks of life. One hopes that it is not just a fad that the media believe its audience want to be informed about but will die away like so many “hot topics” in the past. Women have had to struggle for too long and nowhere so much as in the male-dominated world of art. In the next few blogs I want to feature a female artist who railed against such inequalities. My featured artist today is the English painter Annie Louise Swynnerton (née Robinson).

Annie Swynnerton

Annie Louise Robinson was born  at 3 Vine Grove, Hulme, an inner-city working-class area south of the city centre of Manchester. She was one of seven daughters of Ann Sanderson and Francis Robinson. Her father came from a humble background, his father plying his trade as a carpenter. After he had completed his schooling, Francis Robinson embarked on a career in law as an attorney’s clerk. He married Anne Sanderson, the daughter of a York innkeeper, in 1840. Francis Robinson’s legal career progressed and in 1843 he attained the position of managing clerk in the Higsons law firm, later the firm became Higsons and Robinson. The couple had seven children, all daughters, the first born being Annie Louisa Robinson who entered the world on February 26th 1844. She was followed by Emily, Julia, Sarah, Adela, Mary and Frances. Annie was baptised at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Church later that year. The family changed their place of residence many times when Annie was growing up, living in various Manchester suburbs, such as Kersal, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Greenhays and in 1861 the seventeen-year-old was living at 227 Prestwich Park, Salford. This was a prestigious area of Manchester and the Robinson’s home was an eight-bedroomed house and was large enough to accommodate the parents, their seven children, Mary Robinson, Francis’ unmarried sister and two young Irish servant girls. The next-door neighbours were both prosperous  families, one being a hat manufacturer who employed over two hundred workers and on the other side the neighbour was a silk merchant.

Annie Swynnerton in her studio painting Sense of Light (1895)

Around the end of the 1860’s there was a change in the family fortunes. Francis Robinson’s financial situation deteriorated when his firm was declared bankrupt. In 1869, Francis Robinson lost his home and most of its contents were sold off over a three-day period to pay off his debts. From census records of 1871 it is apparent that Annie, along with her two oldest sisters, Emily and Julia, and her two youngest sisters, Mary and Francis had moved to a small rented property at 28 Upper Brook Street in Chorlton-on-Medlock, an inner city area of Manchester but strangely there is no record of their father and mother living at this premises but they could have been out of the country during the census. Her aunt, Mary, and her step-grandmother lived in another small terraced house in the same street and were recorded as visitors to this property at the time of the census as were Annie’s other two sisters, Sarah and Adela. Maybe they lived somewhere else. Maybe they lived with their parents.

Glow Worm by Annie Swnnerton (1900)

In the autumn of 1868, Annie, Emily and Julia attended, on a part time basis, the nearby Manchester School of Art on Mosely Street, which is now the Manchester Art Gallery. One cannot be sure whether Annie had planned to become a professional fine artist or simply develop the skills which would count if she ever applied for a post as a governess. The three sisters all did well and, during the period they were there and won a number of prizes. In 1873, Annie won the respected national award, the Princess of Wales Scholarship, for the drawing of the head of a boy and a further award for one of her oil paintings. She received a gold medal and the princely sum of £11. It is apparent that the reason the three young ladies attended the School was to hone their artistic skills to such an extent that they would be able to sell their work and make some much needed money to support themselves, but it would also make them independent and maybe even self-sufficient and avoid relying on a man to support them. At this time, there was a vibrant market for contemporary art from the well-off merchants of Manchester who tended to steer clear of the art of the “old masters” as their knowledge of such work often led to deception and they preferred to commission their own paintings from up-and-coming painters.

Unwinding the Skein by Annie Swynnerton

Annie Swynnerton’s struggle against prejudice and her eventual success at becoming a professional artist was an amazing achievement. People, who have studied the paths taken by females in the art world, soon realised that those few who succeeded had family artistic connections and no doubt family support for their venture into the male-dominated art world. However, Annie had no such parental backing, no artistic or social connections, which could have smoothed her path towards an artistic career, no early artistic training for remember she was twenty-four years of age when she attended the Manchester School of Art, also she had the responsibility of bringing up her younger siblings in cramped living conditions which did not favour the work of an artist. She was simply the daughter of a provincial attorney who turned to art as a way of earning money to support her family. She entered the art school with little going for her except her great determination to succeed.

Susan Isabel Dacre by Annie Swynnerton (1880)

For artists to make money they must be able to exhibit and sell their work and at that time in Manchester the main route for this was to become a member of the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts and be allowed to show their work at the annual Spring exhibition. However, the Academy which had been founded in 1859, would not accept female artists into its fold. Annie was a fighter and would not accept things without a fight and so in 1874, along with some other female artists petitioned the Academy council to be allowed to become members. They had also made sure that their request was well reported in the local newspapers. In 1875, the Academy fearing bad publicity agreed on a compromise by which a new class of Academy membership was created and was to be known as Lady Exhibitioners, but the Academy would still neither let females hold office within the Academy nor would they let them attend the life drawing classes which was such an important aspect in artistic training. In 1875 Annie, her sisters Emily and Julia, her friend Isabel Dacre and five other female artists were elected as Lady Exhibitioners at the Manchester Academy but by this time and because of Annie’s lack of access to life drawing classes at the Academy which she found unacceptable, she had already left the country.

The Walls of Sienna by Isabel Dacre

Often in life it is a chance meeting with another person which will shape and influence your future. For Annie it was the meeting and the enduring friendship with her fellow Manchester School of Art student Susan Isabel Dacre. Warwickshire-born, convent-educated in Salford, where her mother kept a number of small hotels, Dacre was the same age as Swynnerton and like Annie had not had the benefit of an advantaged background. However, the early life of Isabel and Annie could not be more different for whereas Annie Swynnerton had led a quiet life in Manchester Isabel Dacre was an experienced traveller. At the age of fourteen Isabel was living in Paris and after completing her schooling there worked as a governess in the French capital and studied art at the Louvre. In 1869 she spent the winter in Italy before returning to Paris. However, following the war between France and Prussia which saw the French capital besieged by the Prussian troops in 1870,  Isabel Dacre and her brother hastily left France and returned to Manchester. They returned to Paris at the cessation of the Franco-Prussian War but were then caught up in the bloody and very dangerous Paris Commune uprisings in 1871 and had to once again quickly exit the country. On her return to Manchester Isabel Dacre became a student at the Manchester School of Art.

The Town of Sienna by Annie Swynnerton (c.1880’s)

There can be no doubt that Isabel Dacre had a great influence on Annie Swynnerton and managed to persuade her to join her in a trip to Paris and the opportunity to further their artistic career once they had concluded their art course in Manchester in the autumn of 1874. First port of call for the pair was Rome where the two women studied for two years and became part of the Anglo-American artistic and literary circle which had become well established in the city. Here they mixed with female writers, singers, actresses and artists. Swynnerton loved the Italian lifestyle and later lived there for lengthy periods between 1883 and 1910. Italy and the Italian way of life was to influence Swynnerton and this can be seen in the vibrant colours used in her portrayals of women.

The Roman Lady Jebsa by Annie Swynnerton (1874)

One such work which she completed in 1874 was an exquisite oil portrait entitled Roma Lady ‘Jebsa’. It is a Victorian portrait of an elegant Roma woman in traditional dress.   The name Jebsa has no historical or literary connotation and so it is presumed that Annie and the sitter could have been on first-name terms. This was Annie Swynnerton’s earliest known oil painting which she completed during her first visit to Italy. In this work, she has used the technique known as chiaroscuro, which is the use of strong tonal contrasts between light and dark to model three-dimensional forms which had been used by Italian artists such as Caravaggio during the High Renaissance period and Annie would have seen many of his works whilst in Rome.

An Italian Mother and Child by Annie Swynnerton (1886)

Another portrait of note emanating from her time in Italy was her 1886 painting entitled An Italian Mother and Child. It was one of a series of Italian women and child paintings that Annie produced during the 1880’s.  The woman and child are posed in an arch of the wall of the Campo Verano cemetery that overlooks the Basilica Papale di San Lorenzo fuori le Mura (Basilica of St Lawrence outside the Walls).  In this portrait we see a young woman bedecked in a simple peasant dress with its white blouse with puff sleeves and a white head dress. She is sitting on a wall below an ivy-covered archway. On her lap stands her young pudgy-thighed child. The child is dressed in a blue dress with a white undergarment and a gold medallion necklace around her neck. The mother supports her child with her left hand, holding the child’s right hand with her right. Look at how the artist has used white highlights to depict how the bright natural sunlight  has fallen on the woman’s headdress, arms and knees.  The painting has a look of Renaissance art which Swynnerton would have studied during her days in Italy.

The Young Mother (Through the Orchard) by Annie Swynnerton (1885)

Another mother and child painting was completed by Swynnerton in the 1880’s entitled Mother and Child but often referred to as Through the Orchard.  The setting for this painting was Clovelly in Devon.  Similar to the previous work we can see how Annie has registered area where the natural light has touched various surfaces.  The inclusion of the apple tree as a background element harks back to pre-Raphaelite concept of truth to nature.  Annie has used a palette of earthy colours in this portrayal of a working-class woman and is a reminder of the Rural Naturalist paintings done by the likes of Bastien-Lepage and George Clausen.  The woman carries her young child as well as carrying a pitcher of water and symbolises the roles of motherhood, and worker.

Around the end of 1876, Annie and Isabel left Italy and returned to Manchester.

…………………………………………to be continued.

———————————————————-

Most of the information for this and following blogs about Annie Swynnerton was found in some excellent books which I bought at the Painting Light and Hope exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Annie Swynnerton, Painting Light and Hope by Kate JT Herrington and Rebecca Milner

The Life and Works of Annie Louise Swynnerton by Susan Thomson

Annie Swynnerton, Painter and Pioneer by Christine Allen and Penny Morris.

The Krohg Family. Part 2 – Oda Krohg the Bohemian Princess

 

Self Portrait by Oda Krohg (1892)

I start this second blog about the Krohg family by delving back in history…..

Christian Fredrik Jacob von Munthe af Morgenstierne was a descendent of Bredo Munthe of Bekkeskov, who on 19 December 1755 was ennobled under the name von Munthe af Morgenstierne. Christian married Anastasia Sergiewna Soltikoff, a Russian princess in 1836 and the couple went on to have six children. The second eldest was a daughter, Alexandra Cathrine Henriette von Munthe af Morgenstierne who was born on March 5th, 1838. On May 8th, 1857 in Christiania (Oslo), at the age of nineteen, she married Christian Carl Otto Lasson, a government attorney. Over the next seventeen years Alexandra gave birth to eleven children, the third of whom was a daughter, Othilia Pauline Christine Lasson who was born on June 11th, 1860. Othilia Lasson became known as Oda Lasson, and would eventually become Oda Krohg.

A subscriber to the Aftenposten by Oda Krohg (1887)

Oda Lasson was brought up in an intellectual bourgeois environment with artistic, especially musical interests. Hers was a large family, which consisted of her parents, eight sisters and two brothers. When she was twenty-one years old she married a businessman, Jørgen Engelhardt. The couple had two children, a daughter Sacha in 1882 and a son, Frederik in 1883. Oda and her husband split up shortly after the birth of their second child and she left the family home with her two children. However, it would be another five years before Oda and Jørgen were officially divorced.

Japanese Light by Oda Lasson (1886)

It was also around 1883 that Oda Lasson decided to follow her love of art and in January 1884 she enrolled at a private painting school for ladies in Christiania which was run by Christian Krohg and Erik Werenskiold. Before attending this school, she had had n0 formal art education, but she was a willing student and soon began to progress with her art. The first painting she exhibited was entitled Ved Christianiafjorden (japansk lykt) (At the Oslofjord (Japanese Light). This is now in the National Gallery of Oslo.

Portrait of Christian Krohg by Oda Krohg (1903)

A close relationship developed between Oda and her art tutor, Christian Krohg and soon they became lovers which culminated on August 8th, 1885, with the birth of their first child Nana. Christian and Oda finally married in 1888 after her divorce from Jørgen Engelhardt was finalised. The following June, her second child, Per, was born during Christian Krohg and her stay at their summer residence in the coastal resort of Åsgårdstrand, about 100 km south of Oslo.

Poor little one by Oda Krohg (c.1900)
Christian Krohg and his daughter Nana

It was through her liaison with Krohg that Oda became part of the Bohemian movement of Christiania (Oslo), known as the Kristiania-bohemen and Oda soon became referred to as the Bohemian Princess due to her maternal ancestors. This small but conspicuous group of young students, artists and writers living in the capital shared radical and incisively critical views on bourgeois society. This group of upper-class intellectuals, writers, and artists dealt with controversial issues like urban poverty, prostitution, and sexual bigotry.

Chinese Lantern by Oda Krohg (1889)

One such member was the artist Edvard Munch. One of the leading lights of this bohemian movement was Hans Jaeger, a one-time seaman, one-time philosophy student and part time government stenographer. He was a colourful and controversial figure who made himself spokesperson for free love during the early 1880’s and he strived to promote the importance of sexuality. The group wanted full sexual freedom between the sexes in the same social class – in practice the upper classes – and the abolition of the institution of marriage. Bizarrely, Jaeger wanted to establish a school for women, which among other things would educate them and make them conscious of their lusts and follow them, so that neither them nor the men would be robbed of their part of the wonders of life !!

Cover of Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen. A novel by Hans Jæger

Jaeger’s downfall came in 1885 with the publication of his novel Fra Kristiania-Bohêmen (From Christiania’s Bohemia). The novel which was set in Christiania, was about two men who lived in lodgings and spent their days drinking in cafés, discussing philosophy, literature, and society reforms. One of them ends his life by committing suicide, shooting himself after spending his last night with a prostitute. The book was immediately banned by the Ministry of Justice, and the police managed to confiscate most of the printed copies shortly after its publication. Jæger received a 60-day prison sentence for the infringement of modesty and public morals, and for blasphemy. He avoided part of the sentence by moving to Paris, where he spent most of the rest of his life.

Portrait of Hans Jaeger by Edvard Munch (1889)

Munch painted a portrait of Hans Jaeger in 1889. In the depiction we see Jaeger slouched on a sofa. He stares out at us through his spectacles. His facial expression is emotionless and there is a sense of aloofness. He is dressed in a tight-fitting overcoat and wears a wide-brimmed hat which is placed on his head at a jaunty angle. The light source is to the left and casts deep shadows creating flickers of red-violet, brown and blue green hues. For many years the painting remained in Munch’s possession and was shown in most of his exhibitions in the 1890s. In 1897 he offered it to the National Gallery in Oslo, which duly purchased it.

Oda Krohg and Jappe Nilssen, photo from 1891

Christian Krohg and Oda’s roles in the organisation may not be fully known but there are a couple of aspects of the Kristiania-bohemen group which had a part to play in their lives. The sexual freedom advocated by many in the group seemed to have an effect on Oda and Christian’s marriage as it was what is now often termed as, an “open marriage” and it is known that Oda, despite being married to Christian  had a number of lovers, including Hans Jaeger, the Norwegian writer and art historian, Jappe Nilssen and the playwright Gunnar Heiberg. In Jaeger’s 1893 novel Syk Kjærlihet (Diseased Love), he describes a love triangle where he was strongly in love with a woman who was to marry an artist. It is believed that Oda was the model for the woman, and the book depicted the relation between himself, Oda and Christian during the summer and autumn of 1888.

Another aspect of Hans Jaeger’s philosophy which influenced Christian Krohg was Jaeger’s support of prostitutes and how he believed that the reason women turned to prostitution was due to the State’s social system.

Madeleine by Christian Krohg (1883)

In 1883 Krohg produced a painting entitled Madeleine. In the depiction we see a bleak and bare bedroom. A young woman sits on a thin mattress on a simple iron bedstead. From the little clothes she is wearing and the unmade nature of the bedding we think she is just getting up. However, what is more telling is her demeanour. Her body droops forwards and her head is cast downwards supported by her left hand. We are not allowed to see her face. Is she ashamed? In her right hand she seems to be holding a mirror. Has she been viewing her image? Is she unhappy at what she sees? It is thought that Krohg is portraying her as a “fallen woman” who is engaged in prostitution. Maybe her demeanour is one of sadness at what she has just done and is unable to come to terms with the shame. Like most paintings that seem to have a message it is up to the viewer to ponder on the possible story behind the image.

The novel Albertine

In 1886 Krohg wrote a novel, Albertine. The novel is set in Norway’s capital, Christiania, and looks at the plight of an unmarried but spirited seamstress Albertine, who is seduced by a police officer and because of her financial desperation and lack of support from the authorities, is forced into prostitution. The book caused a stir and embarrassed the authorities resulting in its confiscation of all copies the day after its publication. In 1888 the Supreme Court of Norway upheld the ruling, and Krohg was sentenced to pay a fine of 100 kr. Krohg went on to make a number of paintings based on the book and the world of prostitution.

Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room by Christian Krohg (1887)

Christian Krohg painted a number of pictures based on his novel.  In 1877 the most famous of these is his work entitled Albertine i politilægens venteværelse (Albertine at the Police Doctor’s Waiting Room) which is housed in the National Gallery in Oslo. The painting is set in a police station and depicts a number of women that have been arrested for being prostitutes. We see Albertine at the head of the queue at the door of the examination room where she will be examined by a doctor.  She is dressed in a simple plain costume and is wearing a headscarf, unlike the garish clothes worn by the other women, which were the normal adornment of the “street workers” of the time.

The public outcry following the confiscation of the book finally led to a partial de-criminalising of prostitution in Norway. The change in the Penal Code in 1902 did not signal that prostitution was to become allowed by society. It did however accept that the exchange of sex in one’s own home was now legal but maintained that loitering and procurement on the streets or in a public place would remain illegal and that women arrested for selling sex in public were to be entered into rehabilitation programmes. Ironically, the current law in Norway which bans purchase of sex and any money earned is illegal and yet such money is taxable!!!!
Krohg’s book, Albertine, was published again in 1921 without any murmurs from the authorities.

The Struggle for Existence by Christian Krohg (1889)

It was not just the plight of prostitutes that featured in Krohg’s paintings. He was very interested in the state of poverty in his own country and his painting The Struggle for Existence was one of his major projects and also one of his finest works. The setting for the scene is Oslo’s main thoroughfare, Karl Johan Street, on a cold winter’s day. The street and pavements are covered in a slushy snow and the cold has almost freed the street of people with the exception of a crowd of poor women and children who are queuing for the chance to be given some free food. We see both women and children clutching empty baskets and cannisters which they hope to fill with food given to them. To the left we can make out a hand sticking out from behind the pillars which is holding a bread roll which is part of the free food. This could be a bakery and the baker has decided to give the poor some of yesterday’s stale bread. The people are poorly dressed in shabby and ragged clothing. In the middle of the street we observe a policeman walking towards the crowd but seemingly uninterested in what is happening.

Gunnar Heiberg by Oda Krohg (1900)

Oda Krohg’s extra-marital relationship with the playwright Gunnar Heiberg became serious around 1897 and Oda declared she was in love with him. She left Oslo in 1897, and took her eight-year-old son, Per, and went to live with Heiberg in Paris. Christian also left the Norwegian capital in 1901 and moved to Paris where he became an art instructor at Académie Colarossi in 1902. Later Oda set herself up in an artist’s studio in Montparnasse and soon immersed herself into the art world of Paris meeting most of the leading artists including Henri Matisse. Having now established herself she began to exhibit her work at the Salon d’Automne. Oda’s restless nature kicked in once again and around this time she began a relationship with the poet and art critic Jappe Nilssen. When that finally died she returned to her husband, Christian and Oda along with their children left Paris and returned to Oslo in 1909 but would often return to Paris for long periods and did not final settle down in Oslo until 1911. From 1909 to 1925 Christian held the post of professor and director of the newly founded Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Oslo.

Five to Twelve by Christian Krohg (c 1924)

One of Christian Krohg’s last paintings which he completed a year before his death was entitled Five to Twelve. On the face of it, it appears to be a self-portrait and we see him with his long white beard, but almost bald, as he sleeps in a chair beneath a pendulum clock. The face of the clock is completely blank, but the title of the artwork tells us the time: it is five minutes to midnight, close to midnight and maybe meant to symbolise that it is close to the end of his life.

Grave of Christian Krohg and Oda Krohg at Vår Frelsers gravlund, Oslo, Norway.

In 1925, Krohg retired as the director of the State Academy of Art, and he died in Oslo a few months later, on 16 October, aged 73. Oda Krohg died exactly ten years later on October 15th 1935, aged 75. Christian and Oda are buried at the Cemetery of Our Saviour in Oslo.

Per Lasson Krohg

Christian and Oda Krohg’s son, Per Lasson Krohg, who was born in Åsgårstrand, Norway in June 1889, followed in his parent’s footsteps and became an artist. As a teenager, he received his artistic training from his father and, when he was twenty years old, had Henri Matisse for a mentor. Per Lasson Krohg’s artistic work was varied and covered simple drawings on paper, to colour illustrations, and from designing posters to set design and sculpture, but he will probably be remembered mainly for the oil canvas mural he painted in 1952 for the United Nations Security Council Chamber, located in the United Nations building.

Mural at the United Nations Security Council Chamber by Per Lasson Krohg

It depicts a phoenix rising from its ashes, as a symbol of the world being rebuilt after the Second World War. Above the dark sinister colours at the bottom different images in bright colours symbolizing the hope for a better future are depicted. Equality is symbolized by a group of people weighing out grain for all to share.

Nana Krohg, Christian and Oda’s daughter was born in Brussels in the summer of 1885. At this time, Oda was still married to Engelhart and his living with Oda was passed off as a “study stay”. Nana Krohg’s art career was neither long nor particularly comprehensive. At the age of 18, she attended an art school and received tuition for the next two years from the Norwegian painter, Johan Nordhagen. Nana never became a professional artist and after her marriage to Anton Schweigaard around 1909, she simply used her artistic skills in design and homemaking for her own use. The couple had two children, Anton Martin and Line.

The New Year Puzzle

I will start my first blog of 2018 with a question, a puzzle for you to solve.

What is the connection between an anonymous group of feminist, female artists dressed up as gorillas, the twentieth century American author, journalist, and philanthropist, Jane Fortunea and the sixteenth century nun and talented artist, Suor Plautilla Nelli ?

Guerilla Girls poster

The Guerrilla Girls, a play on the word, gorilla, are an anonymous group of feminist activist artists who are dedicated to fighting sexism and racism in the art world. They want to bring to the attention of the public the domination of white males in the art establishment. They only appear in public wearing gorilla masks. It’s important for them to remain anonymous as most of them are practising artists and their use of pseudonyms, instead of using their own names, is so that people focus on what they stand for and not concentrate on their true identity. The group members adopt the names of dead female artists, including Frida Kahlo, Zubeida Agha, Diane Arbus, Georgia O’Keeffe and Rosalba Carriera.

An anniversary recount sticker showing numbers from 1985 and 2015

The Guerilla Girls was formed in New York in 1985, the year after the MOMA,  the Museum of Modern Art  in New York City held a large exhibition entitled An International Survey of Painting and Sculpture.  This international exhibition of contemporary painting and sculpture  inaugurated the newly-renovated and expanded Museum of Modern Art and intended to demonstrate the museum’s commitment to the work of living artists.  This exhibition had been organized by the curator Kynaston McShine, and, according to him, it presented the most important 169 artists in the world at that time. One prerequisite for selection in the survey was that an artist’s reputation had to have been established after 1975.  However, only 13 of them were women, and as for the ‘international’ part of the exhibition title, there wasn’t a single artist of colour due to have their work exhibited. According to the curator the exhibition presented a survey of contemporary art, but largely left female artists out of consideration. To make things worse, Kynaston McShine was quoted as saying:

“…Any artist who wasn’t in the show should rethink his career…”

This disparity and the fact nobody seemed to care, became the impetus for the formation of the Guerilla Girls.

Jane Fortune with her 2013 Emmy Award

The second part of my puzzle was the name Jane Fortune. Jane was born in Indianapolis in 1942. She is a journalist, acting as cultural editor of The Florentine, an English-language newspaper in Tuscany in which she contributed many articles regarding the art and culture of the Tuscan city.

Of equal importance Jane was Founder and Chair of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA) which is an organisation committed to safeguarding art by women and rediscovering a vital part of Florence’s forgotten cultural and creative heritage. She is a tireless advocate for art preservation.

Invisible Women by Jane Fortune

Jane is also an author of several books, having written about art and the city of Florence, including her very popular 2007 guidebook reflecting on Florentine culture, To Florence, Con Amore: 77 Ways to Love the City. In later books she championed art by female Florentine artists, such as her 2009 book, Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, in which she talks about how the many paintings by Florentine women of the past lie languishing and deteriorating in basement storerooms of galleries.

Art by Women in Florence by Jane Fortune and Linda Falcone

On a more proactive note, in 2012, she and Linda Falcone, a California-born university professor and member of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation, wrote a guidebook entitled Art by Women in Florence: A Guide through Five Hundred Years, which described where to view artworks by women artists in the public collections of Florence. From this book followed a five-part television documentary, which described the six-year project to research, restore, and exhibit works of art by women in Florence’s museums and storage covering the restoration of works by three artists: Plautilla Nelli, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Irene Parenti Duclos. On June 1, 2013, the documentary won an Emmy Award as Best Documentary in the Cultural/Historical Program category.

Of the award Jane said:

“…Winning the Emmy is a new boost to my project, which aims to restore and exhibit artworks by women in Florence. To achieve these goals, it takes technology and skill. It takes the commitment of the city’s museum directors, its restorers and its citizens in general, who are eager to finally learn more about these lesser-known works…”

To Florence Con Amore – 90 Ways to Love the City
by Jane Fortune

In Florence, she is also on the Board of Trustees of the Medici Archive Project (MAP), one of the world’s leading Digital Humanities research organizations for research on history, art, and material culture in the period of the Renaissance through the Enlightenment. Under the auspices of MAP she has endowed a pilot program dedicated to researching women artists in the age of the Medici. It is the world’s first archival research program dedicated to women artists.

The Florentine – an English language monthly arts magazine

As a philanthropist and art collector (particularly works of women artists), she has served on several museum boards and is currently a member of the Board of Governors of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, a member of the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts (Washington D.C.), an honorary member of the Dean’s Advisory Board at Herron School of Art and Design, Indianapolis, a founding member of the Women’s Philanthropy Council, Indiana University, a National Advisory Board Member of the Indiana University Museum, Bloomington, IN.

And so, I come to the third piece of the puzzle – Sister Plautilla Nelli. How can a sixteenth century woman have a connection with the Guerilla Girls and Jane Fortune? To find the connection one needs to know more about Sister Plautilla Nelli.

Possible portrait of Plautilla Nelli

Pulisena Margherita Nelli was born into a wealthy family in Florence in 1524. Her father was a prosperous fabric merchant. At the age of fourteen she became a nun at the convent of Santa Caterina da Siena, and took the name Suor Plautilla. Her older sister Costanza, also became a nun and took the name Suor Petronilla.

Saint Catherine by Plautilla Nelli

The convent was managed by the Dominican friars of San Marco, who were led by Girolamo Savonarola, the Italian Christian preacher, reformer, and martyr, who was renowned for his conflict with despotic rulers and a dishonest and immoral clergy. Nelli was heavily influenced by his teachings. Through the words of he encouraged devotional painting and drawing by religious women to avoid sloth and thus the convent Nelli was a member became a centre for artistically-inclined nuns. According to Jane Fortune in her 2010 book Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, Nelli is looked upon as the first-known female Renaissance painter of Florence and one who was influenced by the work of Fra Bartolomeo.

Lamentation with Saints by Plautilla Nelli

Dr. Catherine Turrill, the American art history professor and renowned expert on Plautilla Nelli, believed that many of the nuns at Santa Caterina were daughters of Florentine artisans, and the convent was known throughout Italy as a place where women could dedicate themselves to art, as well as serving God. Nelli was self-taught, and would spend time copying paintings by the mannerist painter Agnolo Bronzino and the high Renaissance painter Andrea del Sarto but the artist who influenced her the most was Fra Bartolomeo. She drew particular inspiration from the work of Fra Bartolommeo and his pupil Fra Paolino, both from the Dominican monastery of San Marco. After Fra Paolino’s death she was given his collection of drawings by Fra Bartolommeo.

Saint Catherine Receives the Stigmata by Plautilla Nelli

So now you may be a little closer to solving the puzzle. The Guerilla Girls wants greater recognition of the work of female artists. Jane Fortune of the Advancing Women Artists, who has connections with Florence was of the same mind, and Plautilla Nelli was a sixteenth century forgotten painter but there is just one more piece needed to solve the puzzle.

In the March 18th, 2013 edition of the Harvard Art Museums Index magazine, Cheryl Pappas wrote:

“…She [Jane Fortune] heard the call to find works by “forgotten” women artists when she, with help from the Florence Committee of National Museum of Women in the Arts, funded the restoration of a painting by a self-taught 16th-century nun, Suor Plautilla Nelli, who is considered the first woman painter of Florence. When Fortune saw the figures in Lamentation with Saints come to life in the midst of its restoration, she was moved, especially by the women in the painting: “Their tear drops became visible and their emotion touched me. It was then that I knew—Plautilla Nelli deserves to be discovered, studied, and appreciated. I will do all I can to rediscover and protect the works of this incredible woman artist and others like her, who have yet to get their proper due…”

There are over 2,000 paintings, sculptures, and drawings by pioneering women artists, stored in the Florence museum storage facilities which have been overlooked for hundreds of years. They have deteriorated and in urgent need of restoration. The Advancing Women Artists Foundation is committed to safeguarding this art and by so doing, revive an essential part of Florence’s forgotten cultural and creative heritage.

Plautilla Nelli’s painting Last Supper in the restoration lab

In the 1570’s Plautilla Nelli completed her large-scale (6.7metres long) masterpiece depicting the Last Supper. Her depiction of the event was the first done by any female artist and is the only signed work by Plautilla Nelli known to survive.

Detail of left-hand side of Last Supper canvas

Plautilla Nelli completed the work for the refectory of her own convent. However, in the early 1800’s, when Napoleon subjugated the monasteries and convents, the work was rolled up and put in storage for a while. Later it was hung back in the private (not open to the public) refectory at Santa Maria where a small group of Dominican friars would take their meals. However, the currents state of the painting, even after earlier restoration attempts, was causing concern. The Advancing Women Artists Foundation which regularly sponsors the restoration of works by women artists, has now taken on the task of organising the restoration of Nelli’s huge canvas which they hope will be completed in 2018. On completion people will be able to see the restored work at the Museum of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.

As for works by Plautilla Nelli and other female artists of the distant past, things are looking up. In March 2017, the Uffizi Galleries in Florence began a long-term strategy for promoting female artists. One of the first initiatives was the Uffizi exhibition, Sister Plautilla Nelli. Convent Art and Devotion in the Footsteps of Savonarola exhibit, curated by Dr. Fausta Navarro which is devoted to Sister Plautilla Nelli, considered the first female Florentine painter.

If you are still somewhat unconvinced about people’s knowledge of female artists of the past, ask a friend to name five artists of the past and see how many include the name of a female artist.

 

Happy New Year to you all.