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.

Marianne North the botanical painter

Marianne North     1830-1890
Marianne North
1830-1890

The artist I want to look at today could, I suppose, be labelled simply as a floral painter but in fact because of her desire for accuracy in floral detail she is often referred to as a botanical painter.  Even today, in the age of photography, botanical art still thrives and with so much destruction of habitats around the world, which nurtured rare flora, the necessity to record such species in detail is of paramount importance.  My featured artist today is the Victorian artist Marianne North.

The House at Hastings
The House at Hastings

Marianne North was born at Hastings Lodge in Hastings, England on October 24th 1830.  Her father Frederick North, an Old Harovian, was a wealthy landowner, local magistrate and, on a number of occasions, a Liberal Member of Parliament for Hastings.  His wife Janet (née Marjoribanks), was the daughter of Sir John Marjoribanks M.P., 1st Baronet of Lees in the County of Berwick.  She had been widowed when her first husband Robert Shuttleworth of Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire died in a coaching accident 1818. She and her first husband had a daughter, Janet Shuttleworth.  Marianne North came from a long line of nobility and many of her ancestors’ portraits hung in the family dining room.  She was devoted to her father and in her autobiography, A Vision of Eden, she wrote of him:

“…My first recollections relate to my father.  He was from first to Last the one idol and friend of my life…”

Marianne had an elder brother, Charles and a younger sister, Catherine.  It is believed that she did not receive any formal education, except for a short period in a school in Norwich, which she hated.  Marianne was adamant that she taught herself all that was to be learnt, writing in her autobiography:

“…Walter Scott or Shakespeare gave me their versions of history, and Robinson Crusoe and some other old books my ideas of geography…”

Flowers of the Angel's Trumpet and humming birds, Brazil by Marianne North
Flowers of the Angel’s Trumpet and humming birds, Brazil by Marianne North

However the status and wealth of her father ensured that his children were well educated and often had the opportunity to mix with artists and musicians.  Marianne was said to have had a penchant for singing and as a child was given vocal lessons by Charlotte Helen Sainton-Dolby, the well-known English contralto, composer and singing teacher.  Unfortunately as a teenager her singing voice gave way and she began to concentrate on her other love – drawing and painting.  Life was good for Marianne.  As a young teenager, she had basked in a life of prosperity.  It was a privileged life.  Winters were spent at their Notting Hill house in London.  In the spring, they would move back to their large family home in Hastings.  During the summer months she and her family would either spend time on their farmhouse in Rougham, Norfolk, which had once been the laundry of Rougham Hall, once owned by her ancestors.  Alternatively, they would stay at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire which had been inherited by Marianne’s step-sister, Janet.  In the late summer of 1847 Marianne’s father took his family on a European tour which lasted almost three years.  Throughout this time Marianne studied flower painting, botany, and music.  On arrival back to London Marianne wanted to continue with her love of drawing and painting and it was arranged for her have some lessons in flower painting from a Dutch painter, Miss van Fowinkel and the English flower painter, Valentine Bartholemew, who had held the position of Flower Painter in Ordinary to the Queen from 1849 until his death thirty years later.

Marianne’s mother, Janet, who had increasingly become an invalid, died in January 1855.  The relationship between mother and daughter was nowhere as strong as the one between her and her father.  Marianne talked about her mother in her autobiography and commented:

“…On the 17th of January 1855 my mother died.  Her end had come gradually; for many weeks we felt it was coming.  She did not suffer, but enjoyed nothing, and her life was a dreary one.  She made me promise never to leave my father…”

Doum and Date Palms on the Nile above Philae, Egypt by Marianne North (c. 1880)
Doum and Date Palms on the Nile above Philae, Egypt by Marianne North (c. 1880)

With her mother gone, Marianne, aged twenty-four, took on the role as the lady of the house, looking after her father and the running of the household.   Her father, who had been the Liberal MP for Hastings on a number of occasions, would during the parliamentary recess take his two daughters off on long trips around Europe.     One of their favourite destinations was the valleys around the southern slopes of Mont Blanc and Monta Rosa.    By this time Marianne’s brother Charles had married and his father had given him the old house in Rougham. Marianne’s sister Catherine had married in 1864 and her father, Frederick North, narrowly lost his Hastings parliamentary seat by just nine votes at the General Election in July 1865 and this gave him the opportunity to set off on another voyage of discovery with Marianne travelling through Europe and the Mediterranean isles of Corfu and Cyprus before reaching Syria and Egypt.

Papyrus Growing in the Ciane, Syracuse, Sicily by Marianne North (1870)
Papyrus Growing in the Ciane, Syracuse, Sicily by Marianne North (1870)

Three years after his defeat in the General Election Frederick North was re-elected as MP for Hastings in 1868.   Marianne’s father was sixty-eight years old and his health had begun to deteriorate but this did not stop him from taking a holiday to Southern Germany with Marianne.  However during their Bavarian sojourn, he became ill and Marianne was advised to take him back home to Hastings, which she did.  Frederick North died on October 29th.  Marianne was devastated for not only had she lost her father, she had lost her greatest friend.  She recalled his death in her autobiography, writing:

“…The last words in his mouth were, ‘Come and give me a kiss, Pop, I am only going to sleep’.  He never woke again and left me indeed alone…”

She recalled how much her father had meant to her and one can feel her deep sorrow.  She wrote:

“…For nearly forty years he had been my one friend and companion, and now I had to learn to live without him, and to fill up my life with other interests as I best might.  I wished to be alone, I could not bear to talk of him or anything else…”

The Aqueduct of Morro Velho, Brazil by Marianne North (1873)
The Aqueduct of Morro Velho, Brazil by Marianne North (1873)

Marianne North carried on with her two great loves, travelling and painting the flora she saw during those voyages of discovery.  In July 1871 she set off on a long journey which would last over two years.  She arrived in Canada, travelled on to the United States, and later the Caribbean island of Jamaica. From there, in 1872, she journeyed to Brazil where she spent much of her time drawing in a remote forest hut. She eventually returned to England in September 1873. Throughout her time on her travels she would be constantly sketching the flora of the area and the landscapes.

Roadside Scene under the Cocoanut Trees at Galle, Ceylon by Marianne North (c.1877)
Roadside Scene under the Cocoanut Trees at Galle, Ceylon by Marianne North (c.1877)

In the spring of 1875 she was once again off on her travels.  This time she visited Tenerife, and later that year started her first round-the-world trip taking in the west coast of America, Japan, Borneo, Java, and Ceylon, and did not return home until March 1877.  Although she loved being in the house in Hastings and spent much time in the garden she had a wanderlust and in September 1878 this travel bug bit once again and she set off by ship to India, where she stayed for nearly six months,

Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens, London
Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens, London

By this time Marianne had built up a large collection of drawings which she had completed during her extensive travels.  As they were so popular she held an exhibition of her work in a London gallery.  Having been overwhelmed by their popularity she came up with the idea that they should be housed in a permanent collection and with this in mind she approached Sir Joseph Hooker, the director of the Kew Botanical Gardens in London and offered to present them with her art works and to fund the building of a gallery to house them.  This was agreed and the architect James Fergusson submitted designs for the building and building work started in 1880.  Sir Joseph Hooker as well as being a director of Kew Gardens was a good friend of Charles Darwin and he was introduced to Marianne and it was on his suggestion that she should visit Australia, and New Zealand to discover and sketch the native flora and vegetation.  Marianne took up his suggestion and once again left her homeland and sailed to the antipodean.

Inside the Marianne North Gallery
Inside the Marianne North Gallery

On her return to England she set about arranging her paintings inside the newly completed gallery building at Kew and on July 9th 1882 it opened to the public as the Marianne North Gallery.

The Wild Tamarind of Jamaica with Scarlet Pod and Barbet by Marianne North (1872)
The Wild Tamarind of Jamaica with Scarlet Pod and Barbet by Marianne North (1872)

She resumed her travels visiting South Africa in 1883 and the following winter she was in the Seychelles.  All this travelling and having to endure constantly changing climatic conditions eventually affected her health and, during her later years, she was unable to live a pain-free existence.  She began to lose her hearing and in 1888 began to suffer from liver disease which finally claimed her life.  Marianne North died on August 30th 1890 aged 60.  Maybe it would be fitting to leave the last words to her sister Catherine who wrote about her sister:

“…The one strong and passionate feeling of her life had been her love for her father.  When he was taken away she threw her whole heart into painting and this gradually led her into those long toilsome journeys.  They no doubt shortened her life; but length of days had never been expected or desired by her, and I think she was glad, when her self-appointed task was done, to follow him whom she had faithfully loved…”

I have only been able to attach a few of Marianne’s numerous sketches and I am sure a visit to her gallery at Kew Gardens would be an amazing experience.  For those of you who might not be able to make that journey may I suggest you get hold of her autobiography, the book which I have been reading and from which I gleaned  most of the facts about this talented painter.   It was not an expensive book and well worth the money. It is called A Vision of Eden; The Life and Work of Marianne North.