Queer art: Jewish artists

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - JU­LIA WEINER

THE POSTER im­age for a new ex­hi­bi­tion at Tate Bri­tain which marks the 50th an­niver­sary of the par­tial de­crim­i­nal­i­sa­tion of male ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity in Eng­land and Wales with the Sex­ual Of­fences Art of 1967 is a self­por­trait by the artist who pre­ferred to be known as Gluck. With her trade­mark cropped hair, her head tilted up­wards, the artist meets the gaze of view­ers, who might have ques­tioned her ap­pear­ance, with de­fi­ance.

Born Han­nah Gluck­stein, she was the only daugh­ter of Joseph Gluck­stein, one of the founders of the Bri­tish restau­rant chain J. Lyons and Co. In 1915, shortly af­ter a paint­ing trip to Corn­wall, she had cut her hair and be­gun wear­ing men’s cloth­ing and, from then on, she in­sisted on be­ing known only as Gluck. In­deed, when the Fine Art So­ci­ety once re­ferred to her as Miss Gluck, she was fu­ri­ous and threat­ened to re­sign and af­ter her ex­hibi- tion there in 1926, she was an­gry that crit­i­cal at­ten­tion fo­cused more on her looks than on her paint­ings. Ex­hi­bi­tion Cu­ra­tor Clare Bar­low feels that her strength of char­ac­ter is ev­i­dent in the self-por­trait on our fac­ing page — which is one rea­son why it has been cho­sen to grace the cover of the cat­a­logue. “She ap­pears so de­fi­ant. There is some­thing about that jut­ting chin. It seems to rep­re­sent her tem­pes­tu­ous life and the way she went to war over so many is­sues.” As well as the por­trait, Gluck will be rep­re­sented by one of her cel­e­brated flower paint­ings, in­spired by her re­la­tion­ship with the cook­ery and flower ex­pert Con­stance Spry.

An­other Jewish artist fea­tured at the Tate is Simeon Solomon (1840-1905), an artist closely linked to the Pre-Raphaelite Brother­hood. Solomon was born into a wealthy, as­sim­i­lated Jewish fam­ily and ini­tially had a very suc­cess­ful ca­reer. He be­came well known for his paint­ings of Jewish sub­jects — the JC de­scribed him as “an artist of strong Jewish feel­ing.” How­ever, his ca­reer came to a halt when he was ar­rested in a pub­lic uri­nal off Ox­ford Street, in Lon­don, and charged with at­tempt­ing to com­mit sodomy with a sta­ble­man. He was fined £100 but was ar­rested again a year later in Paris, when he was sen­tenced to spend three months in prison. Fol­low­ing this, he was no longer re­ceived in po­lite so­ci­ety though con­tin­ued to work and seems to have re­ceived sup­port from his fam­ily.

Clare Bar­low con­sid­ers Solomon pos­si­bly the most sig­nif­i­cant of the artists to fea­ture in the 19th-cen­tury sec­tion of the ex­hi­bi­tion, point­ing out that “he was work­ing at the very heart of the art es­tab­lish­ment, ex­hibit­ing at the Royal Academy and at­tract­ing crit­i­cism for the

Neuter is the only gen­der that al­ways suits me

ef­fem­i­nacy and deca­dence of his work and for his par­tic­u­lar style which fea­tured an­drog­y­nous, sen­sual fig­ures.”

A num­ber of his works are on show, in­clud­ing a paint­ing of the Greek po­ets Sap­pho and Erinna em­brac­ing, which Bar­low ex­plains “clearly shows same-sex de­sire and was not pub­licly ex­hib­ited. It re­ally pushes out the bound­aries.” While this work was pro­duced early in Solomon’s ca­reer, Bar­low stresses, “it was re­ally im­por­tant to me to in­clude work from be­fore and af­ter his down­fall” and high­lights a draw­ing of Me­dusa never ex­hib­ited be­fore, in which the Gor­gon, here male, shows signs of great suf­fer­ing.

The fi­nal Jewish artist in­cluded is Claude Cahun, who is also the fo­cus of a ma­jor ex­hi­bi­tion at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery where her work is shown along­side that of the Turner Prize-win­ning con­tem­po­rary artist Gil­lian Wear­ing. Cahun’s self­por­traits con­trast with Wear­ing’s large-scale works be­cause of their small size. This was be­cause Cahun’s works were pri­vate and not made for pub­lic dis­play. It was not un­til the 1990s, many decades af­ter her death in 1954 that this col­lec­tion of work be­gan to be pub­lished.

Cahun is now well known for these self-por­traits in which she al­ters her ap­pear­ance to raise ques­tions about gen­der and iden­tity. She was an early pro­po­nent of the idea of a third gen­der, com­ment­ing “Mas­cu­line? Fem­i­nine? But it de­pends on the sit­u­a­tion. Neuter is the only gen­der that al­ways suits me.” How­ever, this ex­hi­bi­tion also re­veals that she also ex­plored her Jewish iden­tity. She was born Lucy Sch­wob, into an em­i­nent Jewish in­tel­lec­tual fam­ily that in­cluded a great un­cle, Leon Cahun who was an Ori­en­tal­ist travel writer.

At the age of 15, she met Suzanne Mal­herbe, who be­came her part­ner for life. For­tu­nately for them, they be­came step-sis­ters in 1917 when Cahun’s fa­ther mar­ried Mal­herbe’s mother which ren­dered their close re­la­tion­ship ac­cept­able. In around 1919, they chose pseu­do­nyms un­der which they worked, both se­lect­ing gen­der neu­tral first names. Lucy Sch­wob swapped one very Jewish sound­ing sur­name for an­other, choos­ing her pa­ter­nal grand­mother’s name, a French vari­ant of Co­hen. Her in­ter­est in her ex­otic back­ground is re­vealed in this ex­hi­bi­tion in a se­ries of pho­to­graphs in which she sits in Ori­en­tal­ist set­tings, no doubt ref­er­enc­ing the work of her fa­mous un­cle. One early im­age that shows her dressed as a man is very sim­i­lar to a por­trait photo of her fa­ther, sug­gest­ing a close in­ter­est in her ances­try.

The women were in­volved in the Sur­re­al­ist move­ment, whose leader, An­dré Bre­ton de­scribed Cahun as a “one of the most cu­ri­ous spir­its of our time.” Where many Sur­re­alalthough ists ex­plored the fe­male fig­ure for its eroti­cism, Cahun’s best-known self-por­traits show her dressed as a man or as an an­drog­y­nous fig­ure. Like Wear­ing, she of­ten uses masks in these works to sug­gest the many al­ter­na­tive per­sonae she in­hab­ited.

In 1937, Mal­herbe (now known as Mar­cel Moore) and Cahun moved to Jer­sey, where, dur­ing the war, they were in­volved in fight­ing Fas­cism. They were ar­rested and sen­tenced to death in 1944. Af­ter Lib­er­a­tion and their re­lease from prison, Moore pho­tographed Cahun de­fi­antly grip­ping a Nazi ea­gle in­signia, which her jail­ers had given her, be­tween her teeth. Cahun’s Jewish iden­tity is clearly ac­knowl­edged on her grave in Jer­sey, which is marked with a Star of David, an im­age of which ap­pears in the ex­hi­bi­tion in a pho­to­graph show­ing Wear­ing pos­ing above it with her face masked by her hair.

It is grat­i­fy­ing to note from this pho­to­graph that stones have been placed on the grave, sug­gest­ing it is still be­ing vis­ited to­day.

‘Queer Bri­tish Art’ is at Tate Mod­ern from 5 April to 1 Oc­to­ber 2017 ‘Gil­lian Wear­ing and Claude Cahun: Be­hind the mask, an­other mask’ is at the Na­tional Por­trait Gallery un­til 29 May 2017.


Simeon Solomon’s paint­ing of Sap­pho and Erinna

Gluck: poster im­age

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