Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Helena Rubinstein - The Portraits

Now it has been a while since I have mentioned Helena Rubinstein, as most of you know one of my favourite personalities from the 20th century. Madame had more savoir faire than us mere mortals and if there ever was a goddess of savoir faire, Madame would be it!

Maybe to constantly remind herself and her public of her incredible sense of style, Madame commissioned her portrait to be painted by the most famous artists of the day. In total 27 portraits were commissioned by artists such as Salvador Dali, Raul Dufy, Marie Laurencin, Marcel Vertes and Graham Sutherland. There has been no other woman in the twentieth century (except maybe Luisa Casati or the Queen) who has had their portrait painted by so many different artists.

It is interesting to see these portraits as they not only convey a different conception of the same women over a period of time but how Rubinstein thought of herself. By no means a beauty herself, some of the portraits are beautiful, such as the Laurencin portrait which conveys Madame as an Indian princess, serene and ethereal (one of my favourites).

On the other hand the Dali conveyed her shackled to cliff face via a string of emeralds. "He felt I was bound by my possessions, which is very far from the truth," was Madame’s explanation of the portrait, which seems a bit odd coming from someone who amassed a plethora of possessions.
Towards the later years the portraits convey a matriarch that was casting her eagle eye over all and sundry. Although tiny in stature the portraits by Graham Sutherland and William Dobell portray a larger than life figure that could have been frightening to some. Initially she hated the Sutherland portrait, but grew to like it – maybe it was a little too accurate!

With the Dobell portrait, she thought it "rather too much of a caricature", although that didn't stop her endowing a travelling scholarship for Australian artists.

However one artist did elude her and that was Picasso. She professed that "I would never have asked him for a portrait”. However she hounded him until she had annoyed him so much that finally he gave in and did a whole series of drawings. They made her look so horrible that he never showed them to her. She appears in Picasso's sketches as a cadaverous crone with gnarled, bejewelled knuckles.

The Rene Bouche portrait from 1960 below is probably a far more accurate interpretation of Madame in later life, than previous portraits, with Madame looking small and the old lady she was.

Other favourites of mine are:

Marcel Vertes

Baron Kurt Ferdinand von Pantz 1944

Edward Bernard Lintott 1936

While all the portaraits are in a different style they are umistakingly the ame woman with lots of savoir faire!

Preloved Savoir Faire!

For the fashion savvy and also those of you want to support green fashion, nobody does it better than Toronto based Preloved.

Preloved creates one of a kind clothing from reclaimed vintage fabrics. The clothes are full of innovation, combining texture and pattern along with exquisite cut that are instantly wearable and environmentally friendly. Mainly concentrating on women’s wear, they now have a children’s collection . They also have a small menswear collection which is just fabulous.

If you ca't visit Toronto or Montreal they do have an onlibe store, or you can start creating yourself!

a la carte Savoir Faire

While on the subject of restaurants/dining rooms one such room that deserves a mention on Savoir Faire is the Verandah Grill on the original Queen Mary. Before Cunard became a travelling sideshow, with the current company trying to evoke the era of transatlantic cruising with cheap modern renditions of previous times, we had the Queen Mary. While not ever reaching the cachet and glamour of the French Line, the Queen Mary was for the travelling public who were assured of their status in life.
Overlooking the stern of the ship with a sweeping view of the wake caused by the quadruple propellers, the Verandah Grill was an exclusive a la carte restaurant that seated 80 people for lunch and dinner for the ship’s elite at an extra tariff. The fact that first class passengers had to pay additional charges to eat here did nothing to diminish its popularity. Reservations were required sometimes months in advance of a sailing.

“The verandah grill is intended for the service of special "a la carte" meals for those who do not wish to take their meals in the restaurant, as well as for dancing. A cocktail bar and supper service are provided for nightclub devotees.”

This was a stunning room of subdued elegance that was different and full of exotic woods and decorative treatments

In the centre there was a small dance floor laid in sycamore parquetry, inlaid with symbolic motifs in cross-grain sycamore and bordered with mahogany, pear tree and sycamore lines, finishing at the margins with a wide band of ebonised hornbeam.
The raised platforms at the sides were covered with black carpet, which highlighted the wonderful white painted chairs with white leather upholstery. (note, I want these chairs)

Wood paneling was not a major feature of this room, the walls being decorated with paintings by Doris Zinkeisen showing pantomime and theatre scenes. These were framed in column features of silver and gold, echoing a similar ceiling treatment.

The room was given a nightclub atmosphere by color-change lighting which could be controlled from the microphone of the performing artiste. The raised floor part of the room was separated from the dance floor area by a silver bronze and glass balustrade. Color change lighting was again installed in the bottom of the glass, and fixed lights were installed in the balustrade supports.

With the ship's postwar refit, the Verandah Grill was restored to its original décor and use as the first class a la carte restaurant with a few minor changes. The chairs were stripped down to natural wood and upholstered in blue leather(I prefer the originals) The central painting, destroyed by careless handling (dart games?) during the war was completely repainted by Doris Zinkeisen. Even after the war the room held its own, with movie stars, heads of state, and royalty all clamouring for reservations.

Nowadays today’s extra tariff restaurants pale to insignificance when compared to the Verandah Grill.
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