Precious Kota and Fang reliquaries, exceptional Baoulé, Bamana and Senufo pieces… Although the meteoric rise of Helena Rubinstein, the leading business woman of the 20th century, whom Cocteau called “The Empress of Beauty”, is familiar to all, her career as an intuitive collector and her pioneering role in the recognition of the arts of Africa and Oceania is probably less well known. Through sixty-five works from her collection, the musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac pays tribute to her, and reveals Madame’s fascination for non-European arts.
Madame’s collection, built up mainly in Paris over the course of her encounters, and continually enriched thanks to her keen eye, comprises over 400 pieces of non-European art. In her apartments in Paris, New-York and London, this extraordinary collection sat alongside works by Modernist painters and sculptors such as Chagall, Braque, Brancusi, Modigliani, Picasso and Miró.
Her collection achieved mythical status through her participation in major exhibitions, such as African Negro Art at the Museum of Modern Art in 1935, and was dispersed in 1966 in New York in a series of remarkable sales, which marked a key stage in the recognition of African arts. Today her name still associated with the period of the first enthusiasts of “distant” arts, few of whom were women.