CONNIE AND GLUCK




Here we are at the Garden Museum in the middle of London to celebrate the relationship between two women: Gluck, the painter of portraits, and me, Constance Spry, flower artiste. We were at the peak of our powers in the 1920s. Gosh, such a long time ago, but it seems like only yesterday! First, we need to get in there and for me to change into costume in the toilet of all places. Thank goodness the exhibition is quiet! Indeed, I believe we have the space to ourselves. I do believe we are going to pull this off. So let's go…

(On one side of the camera, Sophie Seita. On the other, Kate Clayton. June 2021.)


ROOM ONE

"As you can see I have brought into this beautiful exhibition a fresh cut white flower, a foxglove. The kind I often used to start my arrangements with. It rests on one of my many published books. Note my nosegay and my 'NOT DEAD YET' badge. It all adds to the
ensemble, darling."

"You look lovely. I wish I could paint your portrait as you look right now."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de79

“In this book there is a photograph of
you.”

"Is there?"

"Under my thumb."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de7b

"Handsome."

"Yes. Very handsome. From the moment we met I realised we had so much in common."

"We did."

"We still do… I’m just going to prop you up there, darling, for a minute."

"Thank-you."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de7d

"I believe this exhibition is all for my benefit."

"I believe so."


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de81

"But they’ve got it all wrong."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de80

"What have they get wrong?"

"My private life."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de8e

"Yes. There were all those letters and diaries. Val got rid of them."

"Bloody Val."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de8b

"Viper."

"I could kill her. She was a little bitch actually. You never liked her, did you darling?"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de8f

"No."

"She wasn’t your type at all. She didn’t like you either, I have to say. Because why else would she have destroyed our wonderful letters?"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de95

"I know. Jealousy."

"Obviously she was jealous. They should be plastered all over the walls here…"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de8a

"…It’s all about my school. Which was marvellous, of course. It was a starting school as opposed to a finishing school."

"Mmm."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de97

“But, you know, I’m feeling a lack of something here.”

"Panache?"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de94

"Yes!"

"
Joie de vivre."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de91

"Joie de vivre, quite so! Thank-you Glucky… "

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de93

"…People used to call you Gluck the duck."

"I know because I told them ‘Gluck as in duck’ when I introduced myself."

"Oh, that’s so funny….

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de96

"…You’re far from a duck!"

"I like to think so."

"Shall we move rooms?"

"Yes, let’s move rooms."

"Come on then."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de92



ROOM TWO

"This is one of your finest paintings, darling."


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de98

"I know."

"I think you did this one for me."

"I did."

"Do you remember when we first met? I was really coming to see you. To see what all the fuss was about!…"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de9a

"…So in honour of that first meeting, I’m going to do one of my very famous displays. Using kale."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de9b

"Actually, I’ll trim off a few of these leaves."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de9e

"So first of all we start with the little foxglove. Alone. You see the beautiful form and flow?"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_de9f

"Of course, people were rather confused when they saw kale in a flower arrangement."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea0

"Really?"

"They didn’t have the…"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea1

"You were ahead of your time."

"We were both ahead of our time, darling…There’s not enough water in this vase… I would really like to use one of these vases in the cabinets."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea2

"Yes, all this archiving impulse, instead of just getting on with living."

"Of course, here we are and nobody’s here to meet us… I dare say we’ve gone out of fashion a little bit."

"Gorgeous, what you're doing there, Connie. Talk me through it."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea3

"These leaves might be considered for eating. But you see the beautiful form of the kale leaf. It’s got a flouncy look to it which I think sets off your painting."

"It does."

"It’s not a
reflection of your painting, darling. Not a copy."

"It’s in dialogue with it."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea4

"Exactly."

"It’s an accompaniment."

"Like a piece of music."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea5

"And this lily… See I think there’s one of these in your painting. I'll just pop that in there."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea7

"Synthesis, Connie. That’s really what characterised our relationship and inspiration."

"Well, the moment we met."

"We hit it off."

"We more than ‘hit it off’!"

"We did."

"And then what followed was these lovely holidays."

"Tenerife."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dea9

"Trips to the gardens there. And the cuttings we collected. And the writing. Remember the writing?"

"Writing to each other."

"Writing about our love for each other. Our passion for flowers."

"The theatre too. But also the parallels between portrait painting and flower arrangement."

"Yes I think we have that little bit of writing with us."

"We do, we do. It is in a book. Let me find it. Here it is. This is my writing. Very influenced by your ideas and knowledge though, Connie."

"We were a team."

"Like no other team. Paintings and clothes and flowers. I mean flowers were our… They allowed us to give material form to our ideas. Let me read this passage to you. Could you take the camera for a moment?"

"Of course."

"Given that we’re reminiscing about our past, our lives."

"Our wonderful four years."

"Here we are…"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_deaf

Always give your flowers a setting in keeping with their essential characteristics, as you would a portrait…"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_deac

"
…If you had a queen to paint, you would see that her surroundings were as regal as they could be. Flowers have these degrees of flamboyancy, and simplicity, and to be arbitrary about your setting is to be as stupid and unreceptive as to set a cool… coal heaver in a sitting room… A coal heaver? Whatever did I mean?"

"Oh, yes, a coal man with a bag of coal on his back. You wouldn’t throw that down on a Persian rug, Glucky, would you?"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_debb

"You have to be very quick at first essentials of characters, much as in a portrait. Same principle as in everything else. But always be alert for the extra qui vive delicacy of flowers…"

"Qui vive!"

"…Impermanency…"

"Qui vive. Oh, I love to hear you speak French!"

"…Feel the direction of growth. That was our motto."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_deb3

"Always."



ROOM TWO (Supplementary)


“Go on then, Connie, do a bit of art scrubbing."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_debc

"I believe I will. These shelves are so dusty!"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec0

"What about my painting?"

"Oh, dusty old Gluck."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec2

"Oh, dust
everywhere!"

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec3


"My kale duster seems to know exactly where to go."


UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec4

"We want our show to look its best for all the visitors."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec5

"Visitors who are bound to flood in this weekend."

"I think I'll leave that there in case it comes in handy."

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_dec6



ROOM X

"My favourite painting of yours, darling. Flora's Cloak. I had to have it. And for years it hung in my shop. I believe my staff referred to it affectionately as 'interflora'. But I never stopped loving it, and through it, you. You caught me at my very prime."

uSdFt5jeTvKF1Zft9TtK5g_thumb_de71

"And you caught me at mine."









Transcribed and edited slightly from the original film by Duncan McLaren, December 2021.