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Helena Rubinstein in a red brocade Balenciaga gown
, 1957

by Graham Sutherland

oil on canvas (frame: 174.4 x 111.0 x 6.7 cm, support: 156.8 x 92.7 cm)

Helena Rubinstein (1870?-1965), cosmetician, businesswoman and collector, arrived in Coleraine, western Victoria, from Kraków in 1896. When local women admired her skin, she is said to have set about importing pots of face cream made by a chemist in Poland, later described as ‘the celebrated Russian skin specialist Dr Lykuski’. In Melbourne, in 1902, she gained sundry loans to establish a beauty salon. There, she sold Crème Valaze, said to include rare herbs from the Carpathian Mountains, but probably comprising mostly wool fat sourced from local druggists Felton Grimwade and Co. In late 1905 she established the Valaze Institute in Collins Street, offering various beauty treatments administered by her sisters. Having expanded to Sydney and New Zealand, in 1908 she departed with £100 000, to open modern salons in London and Paris. Fleeing wartime France, she opened in New York in 1916; other stand-alone salons followed, and she established a presence in various department stores while maintaining brand and marketing control. After the war, she returned to Paris, where she collected modern art, African and Oceanic sculpture and jewellery. In 1953 she established the Helena Rubinstein Foundation, which funded Tel Aviv’s Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, and also the Helena Rubinstein travelling art scholarship in Australia, which she last visited in 1957. In 1964 she published her nonagenarian memoirs, My Life for Beauty.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC, Tim Fairfax AC and the Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation 2015
Accession number: 2015.118