In the “About” section of my blog I state quite categorically that I am not a painter. This has now changed in as much as I have now started to dip a paintbrush into paint and touch it to a canvas. Why? As people know my great interest is in art history but people always seem surprised that I have not rattled off a few masterpieces. They constantly ask me why I do not even try to paint. I have now started on that long artistic road and have fallen by the wayside so many times I often wonder why I persevere, but persevere I do. Having said so many times in my blog that I like detailed paintings I tried to emulate the great painters who seem to find it so easy to depict buildings but of course, as you will have guessed, I fail miserably. How artists manage to add so much detail in their work both amazes and frustrates me. Maybe I should paint a few coloured squares or a series of dots instead and then have a highfalutin reasoning behind my depiction! However, whilst I struggle on manfully with my efforts, I want to talk about and show you the work of a genius in this field of cityscape art. Let me introduce you to the English Victorian painter Louise Rayner.
Louisa Ingram Rayner was born in Matlock Bath in Derbyshire on June 21st, 1832. Her middle name, Ingram, came from her grandmother’s family. Whilst she was young she was always known as Louisa but as she grew older she preferred the name, Louise. She was the fourth of nine children. Louise had four sisters and one brother, all of whom became artists. Her father was Samuel Rayner an English landscape artist, who was known for his depictions of buildings and their interiors, including abbeys, churches and old mansions and her mother was Ann Manser Rayner who was an expert engraver of black marble.
At the age of ten, she and her family left Derbyshire and returned to London and it was here that she would spend most of her early life. It was whilst on a family holiday in Herne Bay, when she was fifteen, that she took up drawing and, soon after, she began to study painting seriously, at first with her father who played a major part in her love of art and later under guidance from her father’s artist friends such as George Cattermole, who like her father worked for John Britton, an English antiquary, author and editor, Edmund Niemann, the highly successful British landscape artist who worked mostly in oils. Another of her father’s friends was David Roberts, the Scottish painter who completed long sketching and painting tours of the near East, the Holy Land and Egypt but also specialised in architectural and topographical scenes.
His influence on Louise Rayner is very apparent when we look at the first painting she submitted to the Royal Academy in 1852 entitled The Interior of Haddon Chapel, Derbyshire.
Louise Rayner, like David Roberts, depicted cities and their often crumbling buildings as well as stately homes and their surroundings. During her most active period, Louise, like her father before her, painted a large number of church interiors, and exteriors but what she would really become known for, was her depictions of ancient streets and picturesque yet dilapidated in many of the cities and towns of Britain and Northern France, all of which she always populated by numerous figures. She was a prolific painter and her works appeared at the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1852 and 1886.
Louise Rayner first began exhibiting her watercolour paintings in 1860 at the Society of Female Artists, which was founded three years earlier and has held an annual exhibition in London of the work of women artists ever since. Louise continued to live at the family home and in the early 1860’s this was located in Brighton.
Louise is first recorded as first visiting Chester in 1869. Her paintings from this period are very detailed and charming in a chocolate-box sort of way. They encapsulate the olde worlde charm of Chester and the other towns which she depicted. Most of her works feature people going about their daily business, such as street sellers and people out shopping.
However, midway through that decade, she went on sketching journeys which resulted in beautiful paintings of historical England and Wales. One of her favourite places to visit was the Roman town of Chester (Deva) and it is recorded that Louise was living in Chester at 2 Ash Grove, off the Wrexham Road, in Chester in 1869.
What first grabbed my attention about the Rayner family was the picture above, a painting by Louise Rayner of Aberconwy House within the walled-town of Conwy. It is a place I pass a number of times each week and up until two years ago, I lived just fifty yards from this building.
..………and this is how looked this afternoon !
Another Welsh town she visited and depicted in one of her paintings was Wrexham and above we have her work entitled Street View, Wrexham which she completed in the 1880’s.
Again the local newspaper’s art critic praised her work.
Another of my favourite towns which I frequently visit is Shrewsbury and the town, as it used to be, is beautifully captured in Louise’s painting, Fish Street Shrewsbury.
Another depiction of the streets of Shrewsbury can be seen in her painting, Old Houses, Shrewsbury.
Louise and her younger brother Richard visited the area around the West Midland’s town of Dudley on one of their subject-seeking art expeditions in 1865 and five years later Louise produced this beautiful painting. The depiction is taken from Market Place and we look down Castle Street with Hall Street to the right. In the background, we can see the Church of St Edmund, locally known as the “bottom church” to differentiate from St Thomas’ parish church in High Street (not in the picture) which is known as “top church”. To the left, on the skyline, we can just make out the upper part of Dudley Castle.
Louise traveled extensively throughout Britain each summer during the 1870s and 1880s, but also took trips to northern France and in the picture above we see her depiction of a street in Rheims. The painting depicts Rheims Cathedral in the background. The beauty of this work lies in the drama of the architecture as we see the cathedral spire rising into the sky whilst below we see the street populated by locals. Look how she has used a blaze of sunlight, raking between the buildings, to highlight a man on the right trying to gain entrance to his house.
As it is for everyone, age takes its toll and as she grew older Louise’s artistic talent began to fade probably due to her failing eyesight, unsteady hands and the ability or enthusiasm to travel to towns to seek out new views for her work. Louise exhibited for the last time at the Royal Academy in 1886, and the last time anywhere in London in 1893. She had reached her peak well before she had almost decided to lay to rest her paint brushes at the age of 76 in 1908. The Rayner family dynasty was starting to come to an end. Frances Rayner Copinger died in 1889 and Louise’s mother, Ann, the following year. In 1890 Louise and her sister Margaret set up a teaching studio in Chester but on “retiring”, she and her sister went to live in Tunbridge Wells in 1910. In 1908 the youngest Rayner sibling, Richard, dies aged 65. On August 20th, 1920 her sister and companion Margaret died and Louise Rayner moved to Southwater Road, St Leonards on Sea, a seaside town close to Hastings, where she remained until her death on October 8th, 1924, aged 92.
What surprises me the most is that despite her intricate cityscape paintings, and watercolours, Louise Rayner is not seen as one of the great artists of the nineteenth century. Maybe it is because of the similarity of her work, but can you really get tired of a good thing? I will leave the last word to Peter Watson, the art correspondent of The Observer newspaper, who wrote about Louise following his visit to the Christies Glasgow auction in November 1974. He wrote derisively about the event itself but praised Louise’s work.
“…Louise Rayner won’t be to everyone’s taste – very dense, detailed paintings-cum-drawings of Victorian streets teeming with life: cats fighting, dogs smelling, spivs spivving, washing hanging, flirts leering, babies vomiting, parents spanking. And not a give-away either (priced at several thousand) but they do have a lookatable quality which possibly justifies the price…”
I hope you have enjoyed the last three blogs charting the lives of the Rayner family. Having just completed this one on Louise Rayner and her architectural cityscapes I am going to return to my own canvas, give up my aspirations of depicting a cityscape and just spray a few colours of paint on it and maybe a few zig-zags !!!!!!!
Besides the usual sources such as Wikipedia I got most of my information about the Rayner family from an excellent and comprehensive website entitled DudleyMall.
Samuel and Ann Rayner had nine children of which six excelled artistically like their parents. Having looked at the life of the parents in my previous blog I want to focus on the talents of their children.
Their first-born child was William but he died at childbirth and so the title of eldest child fell on to the shoulders of their daughter Ann Ingram Rayner who, to save confusion with her mother, was always known as Nancy. She was born in London in 1826 during the time when the family were living at 11 Blandford Street, Portman Square, Marylebone. A year after she was born, the family moved to Museum Parade in Matlock Baths, and her early years were spent in Derbyshire.
Nancy started her artistic studies at the age of ten and soon proved to be very talented. In her teenage years she was probably influenced by contemporaries of her father such George Cattermole, a fellow draughtsman working for John Britton. Another was Octavius Oakley, who had developed into a specialist of portraits in watercolour and was, like Samuel Rayner, given commissions by the Duke of Devonshire. Oakley tutored Nancy in the art of portraiture and Nancy’s ability at painting portraits was initially down to his work with her. Other luminaries who influenced Nancy were the Scottish painter, David Roberts who had been a long-standing friend of the Rayner family. When he returned from a sketching trip to Spain he gave Nancy one of his original pencil sketches. Samuel Prout, one of the masters of British watercolour architectural painting, was also a great inspiration to Nancy.
Nancy was the first of Samuel’s children to become an Associate of the Old Watercolour Society. The Society albeit supportive of watercolourists was a male-dominated society for it was only the male Associates who could progress to become full members of the Society and share in its profits and become administrators. Female associates were barred from this transitioning. At the time of Nancy’s election as an Associate there were only three other Associate female painters, Maria Harrison, Eliza Sharp and Mary Ann Criddle who were also affected by this ruling. They were well in the minority as there were 26 male members and 17 male associates. After sustained pressure from the ladies with regards this unfair treatment the Old Watercolour Society changed the rules and appointed them Honorary Lady Members. However, they still were not allowed to share in the profits of the Society.
Nancy then had her first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848, at the age of twenty-two, and was elected a Member of the Old Watercolour Society two years later. The sale of her paintings went well and she received many commissions and patronage. Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester was known to be one of Nancy’s patrons.
Her 1850 painting entitled Summer Pastimes, which is also known as Portrait of the Gloucester Children depicts two young children playing. It is thought that the children are in fact the Duchess’s children or maybe her grandchildren as if you look at the window on the right you can see a flag flying over a castle tower, signifying that is part of the royal estate.
Nancy Rayner’s life came to an early end in November 1855 at the age of twenty-nine and so her artistic life was cut short. As a talented painter, maybe if she had lived longer, she would have been as famous as her father or her famous sister, Louise.
Rhoda (Rose) Rayner
The second daughter of Samuel and Ann Rayner was Rhoda, known as Rose. She was born 1828 whilst her parents were living in the small Derbyshire town of Matlock Baths. Her artistic journey began as a teenager when she was taught how to create models using clay and she began to produce jugs and vases. Her late venture into the world of painting was probably due to her love of clay modelling and pottery and she would spend much time making and decorating her pottery figures. It was not until seven years later, around 1850, when she was twenty-one, that she began to paint with watercolours like her siblings. Four years later, in 1854, some of her paintings were seen at art exhibitions. One of the great artistic influences on Rose was the rise of the pre-Raphaelite painters.
Although her interests remained in watercolour painting and pottery her great love was teaching and it is thought that throughout her life she was involved in the private tuition of children whose parents could afford to give their children a good start in life. Rose was fortunate to be able to travel widely in Europe. The fact that she travelled so much and so far from home, like her trip to Russia in 1880 would mean that she had either become very prosperous or that she travelled as part of a wealthy family’s retinue.
Rhoda Rayner exhibited at the Royal Academy and elsewhere between 1854 and 1866, and it is thought it was during this period that she began to call herself Rose.
In the late 1870’s life changed for her. The marriage between her younger sister Frances and her husband Charles Coppinger in 1866 had come to an end. Frances left her husband and went with her daughter Annette (Netta) back to live at her parents’ home in New Windsor. It was in 1879 that Samuel Rayner died and it is thought that Rose’s share of his inheritance allowed her the independence to live on her own at 103 Dalberg Road in the London borough of Lambeth and following Frances’ return home Rose offered to look after Netta who was eleven years old.
In 1881 she completed a painting entitled Russian Balloon Seller, Streets of Petrograd. She had probably made preliminary sketches when she was visiting Russia in 1880 with her niece Netta and completed the work in her London studio.
Rose and Netta were still living together in 1891 according to the census of that year. Their home was now Hampstead in London and the census gives Rose’s occupation as Artist, Figure Painter, Sculptor and Annette’s occupation as piano music teacher.
In 1908, Rose’s younger brother Richard died, aged 65 and Rose moved to a new house and went to live next door to Richard’s family in Orpington Kent. Her niece Netta worked in a hospital during the First World War where she met a Canadian, Robert MacGregor, and when the war ended the couple were married and went to live in Canada. Rose died aged 92, in Orpington, Kent, on January 12th, 1921, just a few months after Netta and Robert sailed for Canada. Rose was the longest-lived of all her sisters.
Frances Rayner Copinger
Frances Rayner was the sixth child of Samuel and Ann Rayner. She was born in Piccadilly, London on August 19th, 1834 and along with her older brother Samuel and older sister Louise was christened at the Newman Street Apostolic Catholic Church in Marylebone the following February.
Frances’ artistic path differed to those of her elder siblings as she never exhibited any of her paintings until she was twenty-five years of age, and then only on one occasion in 1861 did she have a painting of hers, a watercolour, Church of St Andre, Antwerp, appear in a London gallery. It was exhibited in the Suffolk Street gallery in London. The one thing she had in common with her father was her love of architecture and especially the architecture of old religious buildings.
One of her great loves was travel and she journeyed throughout Europe on a number of occasions and from these travels was born a number of paintings featuring places in Europe. Frances Rayner married Charles Copinger in February 1867. It was Copinger’s second wife, his first wife Mary had died in 1866. From his first marriage Charles had five children and with Frances he had a daughter Annette Frances who was born on October 26th, 1867 and a son Ernest Edwin born in 1871. Following her marriage, Frances and her husband lived in Brussels for some years, but by the time of the census in 1871 she and the family had returned to England and were living in the London borough of Islington. The census reports her occupation as an artist and her husband’s occupation stated as being a clergyman of the Catholic Apostolic Church. There was one other occupant of their household, Copinger’s sister Clara, who acted as a governess for the children.
The marriage between Frances Rayner and Charles Copinger ended shortly after the birth of their son but there is no record of a divorce, which was very difficult to procure in those days. Notwithstanding that, Charles simply left Frances and went off to America and in Baltimore in 1878, with or without divorce, he married his third wife Mary Margaret May. They went on to have two daughters and a son. Charles Copinger died on May 9th, 1913.
After the breakdown of her marriage in the late 1870s, Frances left her husband and took the children to live with her mother and father but probably because of the problems of space in her family’s house, her daughter Annette went to live with Frances’ sister Rose. In the 1881 census Frances is noted as living with her son Ernest as a lodger in a house belonging to the Sevenoakes family in New Windsor on the outskirts of London.
Frances Rayner died in 1889, a year before the death of her mother, Ann. She was 55. At the time of his mother’s death, her son Ernest was about eighteen years of age. When Frances died Ernest went to live in Camberwell with his Aunt Grace who had married Frederick Catty in 1869 and the couple had five children of their own. Ernest became a merchant’s clerk when he was nineteen. He died in 1904
Of all the Rayner children the most talented was Louise and I will dedicate my final blog to her life and her beautiful works of art.
The artist I am showcasing today, Mary Adshead, was an exceptionally gifted person. She was an artist who moved seamlessly between easel painting and murals. She was a portrait painter. She painted on furniture and glass. She was a postage stamp designer. She was a book illustrator and devised and designed advertisements and stage sets but will probably be best remembered as a muralist.
Mary was born in Bloomsbury, London, on February 14th, 1904. She was the daughter and only child of Stanley Davenport Adshead and Annie Adshead. Her father was a well-known neo-Georgian architect and talented amateur watercolourist, who trained in Manchester and London and for four years was clerk of works for the vast mansion at Rosehaugh, Argyll, during which time he met his wife, Annie, who was the village school mistress. In 1909, Stanley became Associate Professor of Civic Design at the University of Liverpool, and in 1912 became the Lever Professor of Civic Design. He moved back to London in 1914 and became the first Professor of Town Planning at University College, London, and remained there until his retirement in 1935.
From the age of six, Mary was determined to become an artist and spent much of her time drawing and she produced many sketchbooks of cartoons and illustrations to stories. The family would spend their summer holidays in the New Forest. Her mother and father’s relationship was often stormy and Mary found herself acting as a go-between, passing messages from one parent to the other. At the age of twelve, she attended Putney High School and remained there for three years. At the age of fifteen she went to Paris with her mother and both lived in a hotel in the French capital for six months whilst Mary attended the Lycée Victor Dury.
Whilst in Paris she visited many of the famous art galleries and was greatly influenced by the murals of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes. In the Autumn of 1921, when she was seventeen years old, her father took her to meet Henry Tonks the principal at the Slade School of Art, which was part of the University College, London, where Stanley Adshead was a professor. Henry Tonks, a former surgeon, had a reputation for being very harsh with his students and a fierce taskmaster. Mary brought along a portfolio of work which she had put together whilst in Paris but Tonks was not impressed. However through a lot of arm-twisting by her father Tonks agreed to allow her to enrol on his art course. This was a great relief to Mary and her father who, because he was a professor at the UCL, would not have to pay for his daughter’s tuition.
During the early phase of her course Mary did not work as hard as she should and was happy to hang out with a set of wealthy girls who looked on the art and course as simply a pleasant hobby. Soon she realised that she was wasting valuable time and began to knuckle down and Tonks began to be very impressed with her work. Mary and fellow student, Rex Whistler won the joint first prize in the Slade’s Summer painting competition in 1924 and as a result, when their time at the Slade came to an end, Henry Tonks arranged for them to undertake a joint mural commission at the Highway Boys’ Club in London’s East End.
Once she had completed that commission, more followed and her next one, in 1924, was to create a mural based on a desert island theme, which became known as A Tropical Fantasy. It was commissioned by Charles Reilly, the professor of architecture at Liverpool University, and one-time colleague of Mary’s father. It is now housed at the Liverpool University Victoria Art Gallery. It is one of just a few of her murals to survive. That same year she completed a large mural entitled The Housing of the People, which was exhibited at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley.
She designed posters for the Underground Group and London Transport in the period 1927-37 and also carried out decorative works at Bank and Piccadilly Circus Underground Stations.
One of her most lauded and often considered as her finest work was a commission she received in 1928 from Lord Beaverbrook, the millionaire Canadian-British newspaper publisher and politician, for a mural to cover the walls of his dining room at his Newmarket House, Calvin Lodge. He had decided that the mural should depict scenes of Newmarket life such as the horse racing and the fair and should depict his well-known and famous friends and it was that last instruction which was to be the stumbling-block to this project.
The resultant panels, collectively titled An English Holiday, were true masterpieces combining humour with an insight into a life of privilege and elegance. They were described at the time as being in ‘the manner of English 18th-century sporting prints and acquatints. The paintings were packed with activity.
In Village Inn, a gentleman cyclist flirts with a country maid. In another one we see Arnold Bennett playing the harmonium for a crowd of gypsies. In another we see Lady Louis Mountbatten waiting by her car, the tyre of which had punctured and is being offered assistance by a swaggering, bearded character who looks very much like the painter Augustus John. More bizarrely Churchill is depicted astride an elephant. All of the characters are making their way to the Newmarket racecourse to meet Lord Beaverbrook.
However, Lady Diana Cooper, a good friend of Lord Beaverbrook and who also appeared picnicking in one of paintings persuaded him not to install the murals. Her argument being that as he was so cantankerous and quarrelsome, he was bound to, sooner or later, argue with one or more of the people depicted in the murals and then he would be forced to look at their depictions every time he dined. He listened to her advice and returned the panels to Adshead and paid the two-thirds rejection fee.
The panels were reassembled and exhibited at the large Peter Jones Department store in Central London in 1930 before being rolled up and relegated to a cupboard in the Adshead’s house where years later all but three were destroyed by fire.
In 1929 Mary Adshead married the painter Stephen Bone, the son of the artist and etcher Sir Muirhead Bone. Stephen and Mary had been students together at the Slade. The couple went on to have three children, two sons, Quentin and Sylvester and a daughter, Christina. Mary and Stephen collaborated on a couple of children’s books, namely The Little Boy and His House in 1936, The Silly Snail and Other Stories in 1942 and The Little Boys and Their Boats in 1953 in which Mary provided the illustrations.
During their early married life, the couple made many painting and sketching tours during their travels through Europe. Mary received many commissions through her architect father and also through the good auspices of her father-in-law who was always singing her praises in his circle of artist friends. Her father-in-law, Muirhead Bone was well known for helping young aspiring artists such as Stanley Spencer, Gwen John and Cristopher Nevinson.
Mary Adshead’s first solo exhibition was held in 1930 at the Goupil Gallery and included the painting The Morning after the Flood which is now part of the Tate collection. This decorative painting by Mary Adshead was characteristic of the style taught at the Slade Art School when she was a student. The tutors at the Slade had students set out figurative compositions that had connections with Biblical tales. This work was set the day after the Great Flood when Noah’s boat with his family and animals had come to rest on dry land. One art critic wrote that her figure painting combined a fashionable primitivism, loosely derived from Stanley Spencer with a fluency and humour rarely found among her contemporaries.
Her talent as a portrait artist can be seen in her 1931 self-portrait.
Other portraits she completed include one of Daphne Charlton, the painter who studied at the Slade and who was a close friend of Stanley Spencer.
One of her favourites was one she did of her three children.
There is actually connection between Mary Adshead and her father and a place near where I live. The connection is the Victoria Pier Pavilion at Colwyn Bay, North Wales. The original pier was started in 1899 and was completed two years later. A 600-seat ‘Bijou’ theatre was built at the pier head in 1917 for the purposes of light entertainment. This original pavilion was completely destroyed by fire in 1922. This disaster forced the owners, the Victoria Pier Company, into bankruptcy and the pier was taken over by Colwyn Bay Urban District Council which arranged to re-build the structure. Eleven years later this second pavilion was destroyed by fire and a second blaze a few months later destroyed the theatre.
Not to be deterred by these two disasters, the Colwyn Bay Urban District Council set about rebuilding, and the third pavilion was opened on Tuesday 8 May 1934 at a cost of £16,000. Now to the connection !
The third pavilion was designed by architect Stanley Davenport Adshead, Mary’s father, and Mary and Eric Ravilious were commissioned to paint some Art Deco murals for the interior of the pier building. The pier was badly damaged by the gales and sea in 2017 and started to collapse and it was decided to dismantle the whole structure.
The Art Deco murals created by Eric Ravilious and Mary Adshead, back in 1934, from inside the pavilion, have all been successfully removed and are currently awaiting restoration.
Stephen Bone, Mary’s husband, was a landscape painter and for a while was very successful but later the market for his work dried up and he became depressed and began to look upon himself as a failure. Stephen Bone died of bowel and liver cancer on 15 September 1958 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London. He was just fifty-three years old.
After the death of her husband, and with her children all grown up, Mary embarked on a tour of America. During the adventure she carried her sketchbook and filled it with drawings of her journey. When she returned to England she published a book about her travels entitled Travelling with a Sketchbook.
Between 1948 and 1963 she submitted designs for a number of Post Office stamp issues including the Universal Postal Union stamps of 1949, the Festival of Britain stamp of 1951 and four denominations of the Wilding definitive stamps of 1952, which featured the Dorothy Wilding photographic portrait of Queen Elizabeth II . Adshead’s design for the 8d, 9d, 10d and 11d were chosen.
In her latter years, lameness caused by painting off ladders hampered her work and life, but, ever purposeful, she would crawl where she could not walk with a stick, curious glances notwithstanding. Despite this affliction Mary Adshead remained an active working artist until the end of her life. She died in London on September 3rd 1995, aged 91.
World War II started on September 3rd, 1939 and, by the end of that month Gluck’s Bolton House home had been commandeered by the Auxiliary Fire Service, but she was allowed to keep and occasionally stay at the studio. Whilst looking for a house to rent she went to stay with Nesta’s mother, Mrs Sawyer. These were troubled times for Gluck as witnessed by a passage from a letter she wrote to her mother on September 24th, 1939:
“…My looks say I am well, my spirit is a mess at the moment and my body and nerves almost at the end of their tether…”
The thing which was causing Gluck’s despondency was not the perils of the war but her finances. Not just her finances, but the control of her finances, which had been denied her and put in the hands of The Family trustees, her younger brother Louis, her mother, and her cousin Sir Samuel Gluckstein. This rankled with her for the persona she had adopted was that of a man, a person of competency, influence, and potency, but to The Family, it was all a pretence, for in their eyes she was just a woman and thus, in their social classification, she was a person with no authority. Her father, who had looked upon his daughter as somewhat wayward and rebellious, had made sure that level-headed and wise people would control her finances thus avoiding the possibility that she would squander her money and become poverty stricken and eventually destitute.
Gluck was paid rent by the Auxiliary Fire Service for Bolton House and her trustees agreed for her to rent a small house, Millers Mead, which was in Plumpton just two minutes away from Nesta’s home. In the small garden there was a simple outhouse which she used as her studio. She employed a married couple to act as her servants. The annual rental cost was £218. In July 1941 the Auxiliary Fire Service vacated Bolton House and stopped paying the rent and so the financial burden fell back on Gluck and as Bolton House was left empty because Gluck remained at Millers Mead, it started to suffer through lack of occupancy and there was a cost to carry out expensive repairs. Her money was slowly but surely trickling away. She had the high cost of running three places, her Letter Studio in Lamorna, Bolton House and Millers Mead. In a letter to her on July 30th, 1941, one of the trustees, Sir Samuel Gluckstein wrote that she needed to limit her expenditure:
“…I am not endeavouring to read you a lecture but I am endeavouring to help you to avoid getting into financial distress…”
Gluck sent numerous letters to her trustees pleading for more money and more control of it but it was to no avail. Her mother, a trustee, seems to have been annoyed at these constant missives as can be seen in a very terse letter she sent to her daughter on May 25th, 1942:
“…I cannot either understand or cope with this continual correspondence with copy letters to Louis and Mr Dyer but I would like to make this perfectly clear…..Today everybody’s income has been reduced to exactly half….if you were to write a thousand letters you would not alter this, and I do think, in these very strenuous, nerve racking days, the less correspondence you and anyone has the better…..I do not get younger and these things make me very unhappy…”
The two other trustees were less tactful and did not hold back in their condemnation of her moaning about money, and her brother warned her that her attitude would finally break their brother/sister relationship. She met with Louis and her mother in August at the Trocadero but the meeting collapsed due to violent rowing between the participants. In a letter to her mother four months later Gluck wrote:
“…This talk was of a nature so disgusting and shocking to me that it became clear that I cannot discuss any matters connected with my Trust affairs without a witness and a shorthand writer…”
An impasse between her and her three trustees had reached an impasse. Her income was important to her and whilst living in Millers Mead she received several portrait commissions including one from Nesta who wanted Gluck to paint a portrait of her elderly mother, Ethel Sawyer. The result was a depiction of an English gentlewoman with her veiled hat, no-nonsense smile, pearls, mayoral collar and bright, if somewhat watery, eyes. Gluck would paint a second portrait of Nesta’s mother in 1943 as she lay dying. This period of war and the death of loved ones was a time when people wanted portraits of their relatives, some of which would prove to be consoling images.
Gluck also carried on with her floral paintings and in 1943 produced a work entitled Pleiades depicting a tangle of pink convolvulus and grasses. This work was a real labour of love for Gluck spent hours in the garden crouching over the same patch of weeds despite suffering painful backache and the onset of arthritis in her hands. The details in the painting are remarkable, such as the drops of dew on the web. Can you see the grasshopper on the leaf? She worked on the painting on and off for two years and it became a burden. She wrote about it to her mother on August 16th, 1942:
“…if I don’t get it done before September is over I am dished – and there are two waiting prospective purchasers. Anyway I am not anxious to face it again a third year and the work in it is terrific. I can only do very little every day and it is a strain on the yes. It is certainly going to be worth it when finished, but when will it ever be finished?…”
The painting was finally finished in August 1943.
Gluck’s relationship with Nesta started to unravel during the war years. Nesta sent fewer letters to her lover when they were apart and when home with her husband Seymour. Nesta’s visits to Gluck became fewer and shorter in duration. Gluck’s diary entries noted when Nesta came and how long she stayed. Cracks were beginning to appear in her relationship with Nesta. Gluck had moved to Plumpton to be near Nesta but with her time with Nesta diminishing rapidly she began to feel isolated in comparison to her former social life when she lived in Hampstead. One of the few people who visited her was her old friend Craig who stayed for a month in November 1943 but Craig noticed how Gluck seemed depressed. The depression was brought on by her deteriorating liaison with Nesta and the wrangling with the Family Trust who controlled her money and believed that she had to be more frugal. She was desperately unhappy and for her, life was all gloom.
It was in 1942 that Gluck completed a self portrait and the way she has depicted herself is not one of happiness. There is no softness of expression. There is no expression of warmth or love in her eyes. She has depicted herself with her head tilted slightly backwards looking cheerlessly down on the viewer with a mutinous and antagonistic expression.
Gluck was working on several paintings during 1943, including one entitled Jerusalem and the floral painting Pleiades as well as two small landscapes and a triptych for Sussex Council of Churches. It was during the commission for the Sussex Council that she made several trips to the small West Sussex town of Steyning to see the council chairman, Bertram Nicholls. Whilst there she visited the Heald sisters, Nora Heald and Edith Shackleton Heald, at their home at Chantry House, in the town of Steyning, and would often stay their overnight or for a weekend break. Both Heald sisters were journalists. Nora was editor of The Lady and spent most of the week in a flat above the newspaper’s offices in London. Edith, the younger of the two sisters, was a correspondent for the London Evening Standard and tended to work from home. Gluck became a great friend of Edith, possibly due to a common issue, desolation. Gluck was deeply despondent due to her failing relationship with Nesta and Edith was very unhappy when her lover, the Irish poet, W.B.Yeats, died in January 1939. Gluck and Edith were able to console each other and Gluck spent the Christmas of 1943 with Edith at Chantry House – the first time in eight years that Gluck had not spent Christmas with “her darling wife” Nesta. Edith Heald tried to help Gluck through this distressing period and the two would often take trips along the south coast visiting the various English seaside towns. Soon Gluck was spending most of her days and nights at Chantry House although she never lost contact with Nesta.
Gluck received a commission from Wilfrid Greene to paint his portrait. Greene was resigning as Principal of the Working Men’s College and had been asked to present a drawing of himself to the College and he decided that Gluck should be the artist. On 16 July 1941 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Greene, of Holmbury St Mary in the County of Surrey. Gluck stayed at his Dorset home, The Wilderness, for a few days whilst working on the portrait.
Gluck’s doomed love affair with Nesta ended in 1944. Gluck had almost seen the break-up coming. What she wanted from Nesta was the sole access to her heart, her total commitment to the relationship. Sadly, she latterly realised that this was never going to happen. Their love for each other was not equal. Nesta was never going to leave her husband who supplied the finances for her lavish lifestyle and this upset Gluck. To Gluck, their love for each other was one sided and although they corresponded and met in the following years, the “marriage” was over.
Gluck could not bear to be alone and, after the break-up of her relationship with Nesta Obermer, she accepted Edith Heald’s invitation to come join her and her sister (plus the sisters’ servants!) and live in Chantry House. Gluck accepted and on October 6th, 1944 she moved in. Edith Weald was delighted with the decision, her sister less so. For Gluck the move and new home took away some of the disappointment with Nesta’s attitude. It solved her financial problems and the relationship with her trustees, as her Hampstead home, Bolton House, was sold in 1945 and the money reverted to the Gluck’s Trust fund. She did however keep the studio but had a wall built separating it from Bolton House. In some ways she looked up to the sisters and the way they had both made their own way in a male-dominated industry without the reliance on someone else’s money. Gluck was now away from her mother and away from the temptations of London’s West End. It was the perfect working environment. What was once known as the Yeats’ Room in Chantry House became her study and a cottage in the grounds of Chantry House became her studio.
Raynard Goddard the Lord Chief Justice approached Gluck with a commission. He had seen the sketch she had done of Wilfrid Greene and he wanted Gluck to produce a similar work but this time in oils to present to the Inner Temple. She agreed but because of illness she did not complete the painting until 1949.
Gluck and Edith Heald’s relationship changed from friendship to a lesbian affair and this did not please Nora Heald. It was not just Nora that viewed her sister’s relationship with Gluck as distasteful, some of her sister’s erstwhile friends found the situation unbearable and began to distance themselves. The living arrangements at Chantry House were becoming problematic and far from harmonious and there were frequent excruciating tensions and shrieking matches between the three residents. Gluck always sided with Edith against Nora and the latter felt betrayed. With all this turmoil Gluck only completed one painting in 1946, and to escape from the cauldron Edith and Gluck went to Lamorna for a month that summer. On returning home they found Nora no easier to live with. Nora did not dare invite her friends and work colleagues to Chantry House, after all, she was the editor of The Lady which did not countenance ladies being in lesbian relationships. Something had to give. Nora wanted Gluck out and Edith and Gluck wanted Nora out. Gluck wanted a home and Edith was determined to provide her with one. Add to this the fact that Nesta still called on Gluck and became jealous of her relationship with Edith.
In 1947, after some pressure from her trustees Gluck sold her Lamorna studio. The situation with the Chantry House ménage à trois was finally sorted with Nora reluctantly leaving. Gluck’s trustees agreed to pay Nora half the value of Chantry House and the linen, tableware and ornaments were equally divided between the two sisters. The ménage à trois became a ménage à deux.
Even though many years had passed since her break-up with Nesta, Gluck never recovered from losing her or from the upheaval to her life caused by the war. Add to that the permanent estrangement between her and her brother Louis who managed her trust fund after her mother died in 1958. In addition, both Edith and Gluck were getting older and began to suffer from a variety of illnesses in their latter years. Gluck’s periods of depression became longer and she painted very little. Whether it was a cause she wanted to focus her mind back on art, we will never know, but she had a love of quality painting materials and was unhappy with the standard of paints and canvases on offer and so she began a dogged decade-long battle with the British Board of Trade and commercial paint manufacturers, who, in her mind, were producing inferior products that threatened to deteriorate over time. Fortunately for her, this cause had the backing of the Arts Council of Great Britain, British Colour Manufacturers Association, and two important museums. After a long battle she succeeded and the British Standards Institution Technical Committee on Artists’ Materials was formed and this meant that for the first time, there were published standards regarding the naming and defining of pigments, cold-pressed linseed oil, and canvas.
After the victory, Gluck returned to painting using the special handmade paints supplied by a manufacturer who had taken Gluck’s standards as a challenge. In all, fifty-three of these pieces were exhibited in a solo show at the Fine Art Society in 1973, and they were very well-received. The exhibition was her first since 1937. She was buoyed by the success of the exhibition and optimistic about the future. However, the directors of the Fine Art Society did not concur. For them the future of Gluck and her work were not as she saw it. She was now eighty years of age, was not in good health, suffering from arthritis and heart problems, painted slowly and they believed that her optimism about her future was simply her antidote to counter her depression. However, some of her older paintings were later shown by the Fine Art Society in their mixed exhibitions.
In 1973, Gluck completed her last painting and it was one with an unusual title, Rage, Rage against the Dying Light which comes from the lines of a poem by Dylan Thomas:
“…Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
Edith Heald’s health deteriorated rapidly and it was agreed by her doctor that Gluck could not safely look after her and she was admitted to the Homelands nursing home in January 1975, aged ninety. Edith felt abandoned and betrayed. Gluck, who was not able to drive anymore, was chauffeured to the nursing home twice a week, to visit Edith, who according to Gluck seemed very sad and forlorn. Gluck was now living alone, albeit with her servants, and found the upkeep of Chantry House almost impossible. In the Autumn of 1975 Gluck returned to her cottage at St Buryan in Cornwall for the last time.
On October 11th, 1976, Gluck had Edith transferred from her Homelands nursing home she had been in for two years, to one close to Chantry House which would make it easier for her visiting her erstwhile friend but the move proved disastrous as within five weeks of the transfer Edith Heald died on November 5th, 1976. Gluck was in total shock on hearing of Edith’s death and blamed herself for having Edith transferred to her new nursing home. Two weeks after the funeral Gluck suffered another heart attack.
Gluck’s cousin Julia Samson visited her in January 1978 and recalls the event:
“…We talked and had tea. She thought of me as young and her sensibility wouldn’t have let her make a young person sad. I said I’ll come and see you next week. She didn’t say anything, just looked at me and her eyes were very very sad. There was a passion there inside. Perpetual liveliness…”
That next-week visit never came to fruition as Gluck died the next day, January 10th, 1978. She was 82. Her brother Louis broke off his Swiss holiday to attend the funeral of his sister and it was reported that his youngest son witnessed his father crying for the first time.
Nesta Obermer outlived Gluck by six years, dying at her French home in Vaud on October 3rd 1984 aged 91.
Most of the information for this blog came from two excellent books – Gluck: Her biography by Diana Souhami.
Gluck Art and Identity by Amy De La Haye (Author), Martin Pel (Author), Gill Clarke (Author), Jeffrey Horsley (Author), Andrew Macintos Patrick (Author)
Both are excellent reads and fill in all the gaps in the life of Gluck which I have passed over.
In November 1932, the Fine Art Society in New Bond Street, London, hosted Gluck’s much heralded third solo exhibition. Constance Spry decorated the Fine Art Society galleries for the exhibition. All the paintings were hung in the main gallery which Gluck transformed into what became known as the Gluck Room. All her paintings were mounted in her own Gluck frames. This frame was described in Jacob Simon’s 1996 book, The Art of the Picture 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…”
Gluck designed the interior of the Gluck room. It was a series of white panelled bays and pilasters which echoed the steps of the Gluck frames and this resulted in a unified effect of pictures and their setting. Modern furniture was added. Twenty-nine of Gluck’s paintings were shown at this exhibition, eleven of them were depictions of flowers with the pride of place going to her painting entitled Chromatic. Others on display were portraits of her mother, James Crichton-Browne, Margaret Watts and Georgina Cookson.
There was also room for landscape paintings featuring her beloved Cornwall.
The exhibition was a great success and the visitors from all walks of life queued to see Gluck’s paintings. Even Queen Mary put in an appearance. So popular was the exhibition that the Fine Art Society extended its run for a month and added a few more of Gluck’s paintings. Newspaper and magazine reviews couldn’t have been better. In the journal, The Lady, the art critic wrote of Gluck’s sensitive brush and delicate sense of tone, colour and composition:
“…no one who loves painting should miss this exhibition. It is perhaps not irrelevant that it occurs at the tercentenary of Vermeer…”
The Sunday Times regaled Gluck’s clarity of definition, clean light colour, feeling for stately design and Florentine dignity of composition, whilst The Times commented on Gluck’s suavity of workmanship. Most of the newspapers ran pictures of her work and gave passionate and affirmative reviews.
It was in early 1932 that another woman came into Gluck’s life. She was Ella Ernestine Sawyer, known as Nesta Sawyer. Gluck and Constance Spry were invited to a dinner party at Broadlands, in Romsey, Hampshire by Molly Mount Temple. Broadlands was a Palladian mansion and the home to Molly and Wilfred Ashley, the 1st Baron Mount Temple and once the country residence of Lord Palmerston when he was prime minister. Molly Mount Temple, an imperious figure, was the second wife of Ashley and a regular client of Constance Spry. Constance arranged the flowers at Broadlands and Molly’s London town house, Gayfere House in Westminster. In 1936 Gluck painted the portrait of this commanding female entitled The Lady Mount Temple. We see her imposing figure dressed by the Italian fashion designer, Elsa Schiaparelli in black and white. Her head is cocked to one side with a haughty look of arrogance. At that soirée, Molly introduced Nesta Obermer to Gluck.
Nesta was the daughter of a diplomat who had married the wealthy playwright Seymour Obermer in 1925 when she was thirty-one years of age. Before the marriage Nesta Sawyer had some of her literary works published under the name, Nesta Sawyer. Seymour Obermer, a widower, was some thirty years older than his wife. The couple led a glittering international life, wintering in Switzerland and spending the summers in Venice. For the elderly Seymour Obermer, his wife added a touch of style and elegance to his life. I suppose in today’s parlance she would be looked upon as his “trophy wife”. Diana Souhami summed up Nesta’s character in her biography of Gluck:
“…Strength and fearlessness were Nesta’s attributes. It was she who loved life to the full, charmed people with her glamour, generosity and understanding, had a go at everything – painting, writing, singing, drove fast cars, got her pilot’s licence, did yoga, got gold medals for skating and skiing and travelled the world…”
May 23rd 1932 was a special day for Gluck. This was the day that a chauffeur driven car whisked her off to Nesta’s home, The Mill House, which was in the East Sussex village of Plumpton. Gluck was to be Nesta and Seymour’s weekend guest. According to Gluck’s letters it was during this weekend that Nesta and Gluck fell in love. From then on, this day in May was looked upon as their anniversary date. From then on Gluck’s diary was full of entries about when the two women met, lunched, dined and sent and received each other’s letters. Gluck later looked upon the letters as the YouWe letters, letters which were affirmations of their romantic love that spanned the gap of frequent separation. Some of the hand-written love letters still survive but when the relationship ended Nesta destroyed many she had received from Gluck and sent some back to Gluck.
In June 1936 Gluck and Nesta embarked on a lesbian relationship which was so intense and all-consuming that it caused a division between Gluck and her previous close friends such as former lover, Constance Spry.
This close relationship with Nesta was to lead to Gluck’s most famous painting, completed in 1936, known as Medallion or the YouWe painting. The work is a portrait of Gluck and Nesta Obermer and according to Gluck it came about after the two women went to see the Mozart opera, Don Giovanni at Glynbourne on June 23rd 1936. Nesta and Gluck sat in the third row of the stalls and Gluck recalled how she felt the intensity of the music which fused them into one person and matched their love. In her biography of Gluck, Diana Souhami describes the painting:
“…The gaze of aspiration and direction and the determined jaws have something of a feel of socialist revolutionary art. Nesta’s fair hair forms a halo around Gluck’s dark head…”
This dual-portrait depicts the artist and her lover, the American socialite Nesta Obermer. Gluck was forty-one and Nesta forty-three. The painting which was quite small (31 x 36cms) is the bringing together of Gluck with Nesta Obermer, whom she termed “her dear wife”. The painting hung on a wall in Gluck’s Bolton House residence and it consoled her during the frequent weeks of separation while Nesta travelled the world with her American husband. For Nesta the painting was all about teasing people who, on looking at the depiction of the two women, began to wonder about the nature of their relationship. The depiction was a dichotomy of honesty and restraint. For Gluck this relationship with Nesta was one she believed would last forever. It was a relationship which would banish her loneliness but of course like many relationships there is often an end point. The end point for Gluck’s relationship with Constance Spry came the day after Gluck and Nesta had attended the Glyndebourne opera. Gluck had invited Constance to dinner at Bolton House and during that evening Gluck told her that they could no longer be lovers. It was the end of the relationship. Constance had been a great influence on Gluck. She encouraged Gluck’s talent and introduced her into the heart of 1930’s English high society.
Gluck’s deep love and all-consuming passion for Nesta can be seen in a letter she wrote to her in the Autumn of 1936:
“…My own darling wife. I have just driven back in a sudden almost tropical downpour in keeping with my feelings at leaving you – my divine sweetheart, my love, my life. I felt so much I could hardly be said to feel at all – almost numb and yet every nerve ready to jump into sudden life…………..I love you with all my being now and for ever. Good morning dear heart and goodbye…”
Nesta was Gluck’s inspiration and in Gluck’s mind, her wife. In 1936, she wrote to Nesta:
“…Love, you are such an inspiration to me, and that you should be my darling wife too is all any man can expect out of life, don’t you agree?…”
Like all relationships there are good times and bad times. In 1937 Nesta Obermer was experiencing a lot of her own problems. Her elderly father was dying and her mother was becoming wary of her daughter’s relationship with Gluck, which she had been told by her daughter was just a casual relationship. Gluck was also starting to be concerned about her relationship with Nesta. She was jealous of Seymour and felt side-lined by his rightful claim on his wife’s time. She was starting to believe that her love for Nesta was much stronger than Nesta’s love for her. Gluck’s anticipation of receiving at least one letter a day from Nesta did not seem to be reciprocated by Nesta in her attitude to Gluck’s letters of love which she seemed to open “when she had time” unlike Gluck who almost opened Nesta’s letters before they exited the letterbox in her hallway. She mentioned this to Nesta in her letter but fearing that the tone of the missive would be seen as complaining, she ended by saying:
“…Don’t make any mistake – I know you love me, I know how you love me and I know that nothing like this can prevent me loving you, but my ears went back and I felt the armour close with a snap again round my heart which had become, I suddenly realised dangerously softened…”
Nesta was feeling the pressure from all sides as she wintered with her husband in St Moritz. Her father was dying (he died in April that year) and she felt guilty for not returning home to visit him as her mother pleaded for her to do. Gluck was becoming more needy, also wanting her to come back to England as she was barely surviving on just Nesta’s letters. Nesta’s husband Seymour wanted her to stay and in fact he wanted to lengthen their planned winter stay in Switzerland. It was almost certain that Gluck disliked Seymour’s hold on his wife and Seymour disliked Gluck’s influence on his wife and because of all this, Nesta was being torn different ways by various people.
For Gluck her artistic life had to continue notwithstanding her often troubled relationship with Nesta and on November 16th 1937 her new solo exhibition at the New Bond Street premises of The Fine Art Gallery opened. Thirty-three of Gluck’s paintings were on show with others on stand-by. There was a mix of genre – portraiture featuring people who were in the news at the time, floral paintings and idealised landscapes. All were up for sale and the prices ranged from £2 to £300. As was the case with her 1932 exhibition, this one was hailed as a great success. In the November 24th 1937 edition of the Bystander, a British weekly tabloid magazine, the art critic wrote:
“…I do not remember for years seeing such a display of versatility. Gluck’s flower paintings would be her strong point if her landscapes were not so brilliant, and her landscapes might get the top marks if it were not for her portraits or her still life…”
Her paintings were reproduced in many of the national newspapers and magazines. The Times lauded her, commenting on….
“…the clearness of her sense of form, her subtle use of colour and curiously reserved emotional content…”
The art critic of the Daily Telegraph, T.W.Earp called her crowd scenes little gems of humorous perception.The Daily Sketch wrote a piece about Gluck describing her as having:
“…the profile of a Greek god with eyes that shone like black diamonds…”
Gluck spent the summer of 1938 holidaying with Nesta in Dorset, Devon and Cornwall. Unbeknown to them, World War II was only a year away and this was going to cause Gluck a lot of hardship but even more depressing for Gluck was the slow unravelling of her relationship with her beloved Nesta.
..……..to be continued
Most of the information for this blog came from two excellent books – Gluck: Her biography by Diana Souhami.
For a much fuller account of Hannah Gluckstein’s life, treat yourself to these biographies.
Another great read is Gluck: Art and Identity by Amy De La Haye (Author), Martin Pel (Author), Gill Clarke (Author), Jeffrey Horsley (Author), Andrew Macintos Patrick (Author)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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’…”
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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 !!
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.
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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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…”
In 1945 Gluck completed a portrait of Maufe at work in his studio.
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.