Helena Rubinstein by Marie Laurencin. 1934.
Helena Rubinstein was one of the most extravagant and wide-ranging stylemakers of the last century, a pioneer of the cosmetics industry who was also celebrated for the daring and prescience of her art collecting, her decorating, and her personal couture.
Rubinstein’s bold and influential flair for decor - sleekly modern at times, and at other times a wildly eclectic sampling from different eras - was showcased globally in her beauty salons and in her glamorous residences in New York, Paris, and the South of France. An astute patron, she invested in artworks by the luminaries of Parisian bohemia just as they began their ascent. Her vast collection included tapestries by Picasso and Rouault, paintings by Degas, Dufy, Matisse, Miro, Modigliani, and Monet, as well as murals by Dali. Her striking instinct for fashion (she wore Worth and Poiret at first, and Balenciaga and St. Laurent 60 years later) and her famous overscaled jewellery kept her in the public eye, decade after decade.
Rubinstein’s vibrant character, reflected in her personal style and in the interiors of her homes and salons, is captured here in works by photographers such as Cecil Beaton, Brassai, Andre Kertesz, Dora Maar, and Man Ray - many of which have never before been published. When the flamboyant and decisive Helena Rubinstein died in 1965, at the age of 94, her huge collections were dispersed. Helena Rubinstein is a unique personnage of the passionate life and style of the self-made mogul-a and definer of century she helped groom.
Marie Laurencin was born in Paris, where she was raised by her mother and lived much of her life. At 18, she studied porcelain painting in Sèvres. She then returned to Paris and continued her art education at the Académie Humbert, where she changed her focus to oil painting.
During the early years of the 20th century, Laurencin was an important figure in the Parisian avant-garde. She became romantically involved with Picasso’s friend, the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, and has often been identified as his muse. In addition, Laurencin had important connections to the salon of the American expatriate and famed lesbian writer Natalie Clifford Barney.
Laurencin became a regular associate of the painters and poets associated with the Bateau-Lavoir, who included Picasso, Braque, Gris, Max Jacob and André Salmon. She was present at the banquet given by Picasso in honour of Henri Rousseau in 1908 and produced the first version of Apollinaire and his Friends (1908; Baltimore, MD, Mus. A.) in a highly simplified style, in which she pictured herself and the poet with Picasso and his companion Fernande Olivier. Both this and a larger version with additional figures (1909; Paris, Pompidou) show the influence of proto-Cubist works by Picasso and Braque, with their flat areas of colour, shallow space and references to ‘primitive’ art. Despite Apollinaire’s claim that Laurencin was a Cubist, it is only to these very early Cubist experiments that her work bears any similarity. This influence, also apparent in such works as the Young Women (1910–11; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.), disappeared completely after World War I. Her paintings were shown in 1912 with those of Robert Delaunay at the Galerie Barbazanges in Paris, and seven of her works were included in the Armory Show held in New York in 1913.
During World War I Laurencin took refuge in Spain where, feeling painfully exiled, she produced few works. She met Picabia in Barcelona and contributed several poems to the magazine 391, although she otherwise had little involvement with Dada.
Her return to Paris by 1921 was marked by the publication of L’Eventail (Paris, 1922), a collection of poems by Max Jacob, André Breton and others written in her honour. She soon arrived at her mature style, characterized by black-eyed figures painted in pale blues, roses and greens, as in Women with a Dog (c. 1923; Paris, Mus. Orangerie). Her portrait of Baroness Gourgand with Black Mantilla (1923; Paris, Pompidou) marked the beginning of her popularity as a society portrait painter in the 1920s and 1930s. Other portraits included those of Jeanne André Salmon (1923; Paris, Mus. A. Mod. Ville Paris) and Coco Chanel (1923; Paris, Mus. Orangerie), which was rejected by its sitter. Laurencin was commissioned by Serge Diaghilev in 1923 to provide costume and set designs for Francis Poulenc’s ballet Les Biches; later commissions for stage designs included those for Alfred de Musset’s comedy A Quoi rêvent les jeunes filles in 1928 and for the ballet Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe in 1945. For the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925 Laurencin collaborated with André Groult on the Chambre de Madame.