Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power
After trying to make it to every museum in Paris this summer, I realized that there are a few museums I still haven’t visited in New York. One of the first I am headed is The Jewish Museum to see the new exhibition Helena Rubinstein: Beauty is Power exhibition. It is the first exhibition to explore the ideas, innovations, and influence of Helena Rubinstein, known as Madame, who rose from humble beginnings in Poland to become a legendary cosmetics entrepreneur. She was one of the first modern self-made women to head her own company similar to Coco Chanel whom she commissioned for fashions. “Rubinstein was ahead of her time in her embrace of cultural and artistic diversity. She was not only an early patron of European and Latin American modern art, but also one of the earliest, leading collectors of African and Oceanic sculpture.”
“The exhibition reunites selections from Rubinstein’s famed art collection, dispersed at auction in 1966, featuring works by Pablo Picasso, Elie Nadelman, Frida Kahlo, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Joan Miró, and Henri Matisse, among others, as well as more than thirty works from her peerless collection of African and Oceanic art. Other highlights include Rubinstein’s beloved miniature period rooms, jewelry, and clothing designed by Cristóbal Balenciaga, Elsa Schiaparelli, and Paul Poiret. Rubinstein’s savvy for self-promotion is seen in portraits of her made by the leading artists of her day, from Marie Laurencin to Andy Warhol. Also on display are vintage advertisements, cosmetics products, and promotional films related to her beauty business.”
“Madame established her business, Helena Rubinstein & Co., in Melbourne in 1903. Inspired by the tradition of European literary salons, Rubinstein conceived of her beauty salons as intimate environments where progressive ideas were exchanged under the guidance of a sophisticated patroness. After her initial success in Australia, she opened beauty salons in the grandest districts of London and Paris. At the outbreak of World War I she moved to the United States, where she founded her first New York salon in 1915. By the 1920s Rubinstein was a wealthy and influential businesswoman with salons worldwide, and was becoming known as an art collector. Her eclectic tastes distinguished her from the conservative elitism prevalent in fashionable circles. Rubinstein’s fascination with different cultures and artistic approaches was reflected in her clothes, art, furniture, and jewelry. The kaleidoscopic variety of styles represented in the decor of her salons and homes served to level snobbish aesthetic taste and expand the notion of who and what could be considered beautiful.”
Helena Rubinstein had many beautiful homes but it was her Paris apartment that caught my eye. I’ve posted many of the photos here. It was filled with much of the art and sculpture that will be seen in the exhibition. When she was nearly 90, she asked interior designer David Hicks to work on the new apartment she had bought in London in 1961. It’s a colorful jewel box that she had designed in purple the same shade as the skirt from which she cut a swatch from the hem. It sounds like her personality was as colorful as the apartment.
Make sure you visit The Jewish Museum to learn more about this interesting entrepreneur before the exhibition closes on March 22, 2015.
“Hard work keeps the wrinkles out of the mind and spirit.”
– Helena Rubinstein
Another view from the Jewish Museum exhibition.