HELENA RUBINSTEIN (1872 - 1965)
FREE WOMAN AND INSATIABLE COLLECTOR OF PRIMITIVE ART
Starting from nothing, the Polish Chaja - her real name - has created an empire. Modern, powerful and independent business woman, her taste for art has been combined with her professional life in the service of beauty. Compulsive and anti-conformist collector, her instinctive audacity has played an essential role in the recognition of the primitive arts. MyStudiolo traces the life of the one we called "Madame", a free and visionary woman with an extraordinary destiny in:
6 key dates 4 artworks 3 anecdotes 1 quote
1890 Coming from a modest family in Krakow and opposed to the marriage for which her parents intended her, Helena set off for Australia. She works in her uncles' store and learns English. Fascinated by her perfect complexion, clients want her secret. She then makes a beauty cream by copying the one that her mother had put in her suitcase. The first stone of what was to become an empire of beauty was born.
1908 She was introduced to African and Oceanic arts by her neighbor, the sculptor Jacob Epstein. Living in London, the latter asks her to acquire in Parisian auctions pieces that he has spotted (interest in this form of art has not yet gained France). She gets caught up in the game and above all, she is fascinated by the expressiveness and strength of these sculptures. She then buys objects for herself from Nigeria, Cameroon and Congo.
1912 Living between New York and London, she settles in Paris, her favorite city. Her friend Misia Sert - Polish aristocrat and famous Parisian artistic figure - introduced her to her circle of artists such as Kees van Dongen, Georges Braque, Juan Gris, Amedeo Modigliani, Marc Chagall, Louis Marcoussis, Louise de Vilmorin, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Jean Cocteau, who nicknamed her “The Empress of Beauty.” Helena thus acquired a large number of paintings which were added to her large collection of African works.
1932 She lives surrounded by her collection in her 50-room duplex in the building she had built at 24 Quai de Béthune in Paris. A spectacular wall brings together 56 artworks : this accumulation reflects her atypical personality. Titus, her husband and mentor, introduced her to artists for whom Helena was happy to patronize. She received them every week for dinner and began to build a collection that brought together artists then living in Paris: Man Ray, Chagall, Renoir, Brancusi, Bonnard, Braque, Miró, Maillol, Léger ...
1935 Several of her works are on display at the important African Negro Art exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. This popularized the African arts and did a lot in their promotion. This event allowed many to glimpse the treasures of her collection, such as these baoulé, dan, wè and gouro masks from Ivory Coast or from other Fang, Kota and Punu ethnic groups from Gabon. Alongside these classics there were more unexpected pieces from Nigeria, Cameroon and Congo.
1965 During the last ten years, the death of Titus, the death of her second husband, then the one of her dear son Horace, left her distraught. Only the presence of her real heiress, her niece Mala, comforts her. She begins a world tour and travels to South America. Dealing with her Memoirs, Helena Rubinstein worked until her last breath, on April 1, 1965. The following year, 360 objects from her collection were dispersed in three historic auctions in New York.They will have marked an essential stage in the promotion of African arts.
Salvador Dalí, Portrait of Helena Rubinstein 1943
Vase representing a demon. Anthropomorphic decor: demon holding trophy heads. Nasca.
Seated male figure, Dengese, Sankuru river region, Democratic Republic of Congo. 19th-20th century
Dan-Ngere protective mask, Ivory Coast, Danané region, 19th century.
Helena quickly realized the importance of art as a media relay for the legitimization of her choices. She will be the first to present works of art in her beauty salons, such as those of Brancusi, Chirico, Modigliani, Nadelman, and to involve certain artists in its advertising campaigns, such as Miró, Laurencin, Dufy or de Kooning.
The young photographer Man Ray, with whom she befriended, borrows her Bangwa statue - a famous Cameroonian statuette representing the dancing priestess of the cult of the earth, woman of god and archetype of motherhood - to photograph it with the model Ady Fidelin in 1934.
To date, the most expensive work from the Rubinstein collection ever sold is a Kota reliquary figure from Gabon auctioned in 2015 at Christie's in Paris for 5.4 million euros. In 1966 the same work was sold for the equivalent of 6,950 euros. Proof that the "Rubinstein pedigree" is excellent.
« I am interested in all forms of beauty. »
Discover the exhibition Helena Rubinstein - The Adventure of Beauty at mahJ
Discover the exhibition Helena Rubinstein - The Madame's Collection at musée du Quai-Branly Jacques Chirac