• gerard van weyenbergh

Helena Rubinstein and her life with art

Founder of a global cosmetics empire and avant-garde in all fields, Helena Rubinstein, was also a great collector. The Museum of Art and History of Judaism looks back on an exceptional woman's adventurous journey, in love with beauty in all its forms.

In 1905 , when she returned from Australia, Helena Rubinstein toured Europe. She experienced her first artistic emotions in Paris - by having dresses cut by Charles Frederick Worth or Jacques Doucet or buying her first vases signed Émile Gallé. But it was in 1908, still in Paris, that her collector's adventure really began. With an astonishing flair, the entrepreneur returned from the antipodes is among the pioneers of African art and one of her Polish compatriots, Guillaume Apollinaire ...

She frequents the Hotel Drouot , where she makes her first purchases of masks and idols, on Jacob Epstein's advice, an English sculptor introduced to her by her husband. She is on the same wavelength as Pablo Picasso , Maurice de Vlaminck, and André Derain , who are also interested in this "barbaric" art. But she has a surprisingly wide spectrum: close to the avant-garde, she also frequents social painters like Paul César Helleu, accustomed to fine society, races and regattas, who sketched it from 1908 - the beginning of an endless series of portraits by the most prominent artists of the century. She has her entries at Misia Sert, muse of the Belle Époque, who opens her address book, and where she notably meets Raoul Dufy .

Sarah Lipska @ mahJ

Sarah Lipska, Portrait of Helena Rubinstein, circa 1930

From then on, the fever never leaves her: she buys in all directions, and her financial ease will allow her to do so all her life. In some cases, she does it out of compassion: she supports Chaïm Soutine, a wandering and tortured Jew, even if her painting does not really correspond to her own tastes. For example, she does it out of friendship for Marie Laurencin, for Pavel Tchelitcheff, for her compatriots Louis Marcoussis and Elie Nadelman, sculptor: she bought all the works exhibited at the Paterson Gallery, in London, in 1911.

"Helena Rubinstein is the first businesswoman who had the idea of ​​using certain elements of her modern art collections for advertising purposes," writes Janet Flanner, correspondent for The New Yorker, in an article published in The Eye in October 1957. The famous White Negress II by Constantin Brancusi, now at the Art Institute of Chicago, adorned one of her Parisian beauty salons, next to a series of paintings by Marcoussis. When she opened an institute in Chicago in 1928, she gave it an Art Deco touch with a floor lamp by Pierre Chareau and Chana Orloff's sculptures.

There is something bulimic and "unconventional" about her collection, as she admitted it. She accumulates in series - dozens of Laurencin, a dozen Juan Gris of first importance, Braque, Chagall, Matisse (a Landscape in Cagnes-sur-Mer ), Picasso (including sketches for the Demoiselles d'Avignon) - she is also interested in opalines, dollhouses, Coromandel lacquers.

Erwin Blumenfeld © mahJ

Helena Rubinstein facing a sculpture by Elie Nadelman and the "Confidences" tapestry by Pablo Picasso , circa 1955

And her travels constantly make her discover new horizons: when she moves away from Europe during the Second World War, a trip to Mexico makes her meet Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, of which she immediately acquires works. This extraordinary but heterogeneous collection no longer made sense once its owner disappeared - except for a possible Helena Rubinstein museum. The day after her death, it was sold at auction in New York at Parke-Bernet, from April 21 to 29, 1966. The simple catalog - that is, the trifle of six volumes - is now worth a few thousand euros in bookstores. For Madame, everything is art. © Beaux Arts Magazine - Raphael Pic