Helena Rubinstein (1870–1965) is seen as the pioneer of female entrepreneurship.
At the age of sixteen she turned her back on the confining, middle-class conditions of her Orthodox Jewish family, heading first to Vienna, then to Australia. Without any help she founded a worldwide empire there, paving the way for many other Jewish businesswomen and businessmen in the new field of cosmetics. Her company soon included 100 branches in 14 countries with around 30,000 employees; she also became an important patron of the arts and sciences along the way.
Krakow—Vienna—Melbourne—London—Paris—New York—Tel Aviv were the essential stations of her life. The Jewish Musuem of Vienna is currently dedicating Madame Rubinstein a solo exhibition, which traces her path as a migrant who conquered continents and broke conventions, and placed her commitment to the self-determination of women in the spotlight.
The private art collection of Madame Rubinstein
Madame Rubinstein was known throughout the world as a collector, friend and patroness of the arts. Since her Paris days (1930s), Rubinstein had been collecting contemporary art, as well as African sculptures, which were exhibited in 1935 at MoMA. The salons were embellished with works by Brancusi, de Chirico, Laurencin, Marcoussis, Modigliani and Nadelman, among others. Her various collections included works by some remarkable modernists, such as Braque, Chagall, Cocteau, Degas, Derain, Ernst, Gris, Klee, Matisse, Picasso, Renoir, and many more. She also owned more than 30 portraits of herself, including one by Picasso (see below). Madame Rubinstein was visiting and enjoying talks with Picasso, Dalí and Frida Kahlo. Many of the listed artists owe their success to her faith and support in their early days. One of Rubinstein’s close friends was Jacob Epstein, the American sculptor. Madame Rubinstein remembers:
“He always wanted me to got to galleries and auctions where art was being sold to buy for him. He would tell me just what to spend and if a a work of art brought a higher price than he wished to pay, I would buy it for myself (…). In this way my knowledge and love of art developed. I started by collection (…); however I never buy anything unless I enjoy looking at it.”
One of the most outstanding homes in New York City was the Park Avenue triplex penthouse of Madame Helena Rubinstein, active head of her great beauty empire. Her twenty-six room “apartment” was one of her five homes in the US. Of great interest is the redecoration of her Art Gallery by Cecil Beaton. This was the first large room to be designed for a private patron by the distinguished photographer, artist and scenic designer, Beaton, who commented:
“Most picture galleries tend to be dull and stodgy. Looking at great masterpieces becomes an effort when they are presented in the tomb-like atmosphere of the average museum. With this thought in mind, when Madame Rubinstein gave me the opportunity to re-design her private picture gallery, I endeavoured to create a setting which complemented her fine collection (…)”
After the Nazis seized power, Helena Rubinstein managed to bring nearly her entire family to the USA. However, one of her sisters, Regina Kolin, and her husband were killed in Auschwitz. Further strokes of fate were inevitable: the divorce of her beloved first husband Edward Titus, the death of her second husband, the considerably younger Georgian prince Archil Gourielli-Tchkonia, and shortly thereafter the death of her son Horace Titus in a car accident. The indefatigable beauty tycoon drew strength and incentive again and again from her work.
Trips to Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and Israel, where she planned a factory, roused her out of her sorrow. At this time, the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art of the Tel Aviv Museum, which she endowed and donated several works from her collection to, was opened. Moreover, she bequeathed her collection of historic miniature rooms with approx. 20,000 pieces of furniture and figurines in historic costumes to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
Conclusively, Helena Rubinstein was an icon of beauty, fashion and a great patron of the arts.
Her exhibition at Jewish Museum (Vienna) can be viewed until May 6th, 2018 // Find out more about the exhibition here.
Adress: Judenplatz 1, 1010 Vienna (Austria) // Underground lines U2 “Schottentor”, U3 “Herrengasse”.
Opening hours: Every day except for Saturday, 10am – 6pm
Cover photo: Helena Rubinstein in her NYC Apartment, photographed by Vogue / Source: The Spectator UK
All photos (except for the ones with credit) by Judith Bradlwarter. ©