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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

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Helena Rubinstein in a red brocade Balenciaga gown

1957
Graham Sutherland

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

Helena Rubinstein (1872–1965) started one of the world's first global cosmetic companies in Melbourne in 1902. Rubinstein left her home in Kraków, Poland in 1896 and joined family members in Coleraine, Victoria. While there, she hit upon the idea that face cream could be 'improved' with the addition of lanolin from local fleeces. The beauty salon she later opened in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne specialised in a product said to contain rare herbs from eastern Europe, but which was made with lanolin, 'vegetable oil, mineral oil and wax'. The business expanded, and in 1908 she departed Australia to open salons in London and Paris. Fleeing wartime France, she opened in New York in 1916. Other stand-alone and department store salons followed. Integral to Rubinstein's great success was her awareness that she was the most effective ambassador for the brand, and that she must display luxury herself in fashion and grooming. Her wardrobe, consequently, contained gowns by the most illustrious Parisian designers.

When she sat for British artist Graham Sutherland OM, she wore a gown by Balenciaga, which Sutherland thought made her look like an empress. He ultimately made three paintings of her. She acquired this one for herself and displayed at her home in New York City. In her 1964 memoir My Life for Beauty, Rubinstein described Sutherland's portraits as 'incredibly bold, domineering interpretations of what I had never imagined I looked like', but conceded that 'as paintings they were indeed masterpieces'.

Purchased with funds provided by Marilyn Darling AC, Tim Fairfax AC and the Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation 2015
© Estate of Graham Sutherland

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.
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3 minutes 11 seconds
Show transcript

Artist and subject

Graham Sutherland (age 54 in 1957)

Helena Rubinstein (age 85 in 1957)

Supported by

Tim Fairfax AC (53 portraits supported)

Marilyn Darling AC (30 portraits supported)

The Sid and Fiona Myer Family Foundation (6 portraits supported)

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency