So apparently I decided this blog was too tightly focussed (on poetry, comedy, mental health, LGBT+ issues, kink, and feminism). Because today I’m going to try something a little different. I’m going to write about one of my favourite paintings, and the extraordinary artist who created it. I should make it clear that I am in no way an art expert, so don’t expect an academic critique.
In 1895 Gluck was born to a wealthy Jewish family. After completing their time at art school in 1916 they adopted an androgynous style and insisted on being known simply as Gluck, with no prefix or suffix. Gluck was so committed to this that they allegedly resigned from vice presidency of an art society due to being named “Miss Gluck” on the letterhead. This rejection of assigned gender speaks to me of a non-binary identity before the terminology or community existed, hence my use of gender-neutral pronouns throughout this post. Depressingly, Gluck is still routinely misgendered by art historians. Through their life they also had a number of relationships with women, leading to Gluck being routinely mislabelled as a lesbian as well.
Despite enjoying popular success in the 20s and 30s, the painting which speaks to me is a later work. Painted in 1942, I saw the self-portrait Gluck at a queer art exhibition at the Tate a couple of years ago. In a room full of exceptional exhibits, this captured my attention like no other. Perhaps because I was trying to work out my own gender identity when I saw this.
The appearance is uncompromising, in this piece Gluck refuses to hide their identity from the world. The eyes are even more striking in person, capturing pain and a life marked by struggles in an incredibly emotive way. The expression is indomitable, calling to mind a refusal to bend before the world, a willingness to fight for what they believe in. To me this painting embodies the spirit of Pride (despite predating it) and is a hauntingly beautiful reminder of the struggles that have characterised much of queer history.
Across the decades I feel a solidarity with this painting. This is our history, this is our identity, this is our power.