August 13: Gluck

Hannah Gluckstein, an artist who named herself “Gluck” (“no prefix, suffix, or quotes,” she said), wore men’s clothes, and was public about her lesbianism as early as 1916, was born in London on this date in 1895. One of her best-known paintings, “Medallion,” was inspired by a performance of “Don Giovanni” that she attended with her lover, Nesta Obermer, in 1936. “They sat in the third row,” writes Gluck’s biographer, Diana Souhami, “and she felt [that] the intensity of the music fused them into one person and matched their love.” Obermer, however, was married to an American businessman, and ultimately destroyed most evidence of her relationship with Gluck, which ended in 1944. An earlier love affair with interior decorator and floral designer Constance Spry helped Gluck achieve commercial success and even turned her androgynous “look” into haute couture. In the 1950s, Gluck campaigned long and hard to persuade the British Board of Trade and commercial paint manufacturers to improve the quality of oil paints. Her demands were backed by two museums and led to the formation of the British Standards Institution Technical Committee on Artists’ Materials, which published standards for pigments, oils, and canvases.

“Gluck was a woman of many contradictions and a person who inspired both great love and profound dislike . . . she served as an early role model for other women-identified women artists.” —Ray Anne Lockard, GLBTQ Encyclopedia

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