Helena Rubinstein, whose name and accomplishments are legendary, was a beauty authority, industrial pioneer, patron of the arts, philanthropist, and inveterate collector. The woman who helped to shape the way generations of women see themselves was born in Poland in 1871. At the age of 18, she immigrated to Melbourne, Australia, and at the age of 20 began her cosmetics business with a single product, a simple face cream. At a time when career opportunities for women were virtually nonexistent, Helena Rubinstein created a successful business enterprise, which expanded from Melbourne to London in 1902, to Paris in 1906, and to New York in 1912. The international cosmetics empire she created earned her a reputation as one of the world's most successful businesswomen.
As the business grew, so did Helena Rubinstein's interest in the arts. She accumulated significant collections of African sculpture, modern paintings and sculpture, Oriental and Oceanic art, and Egyptian antiquities. Of daring and eclectic taste, she delighted in discovery and in cultivating the avant-garde. She was a friend and patron of many artists who are recognized today as the foremost in the world. Twenty-seven portraits of her were painted by well-known artists and have been exhibited at major museums throughout the United States and Europe. Some of these portraits are represented here on the Foundation's website.
Helena Rubinstein started the Foundation in 1953, in affirmation of a principle she often expressed: "My fortune comes from women and should benefit them and their children, to better their quality of life." Convinced that education was vital to career development, she made scholarship grants to encourage young women to undertake higher education and to pursue nontraditional careers. The Foundation was a major beneficiary of Helena Rubinstein's legacy when she died in 1965 at the age of 94. Its Directors further developed and broadened the philanthropic concepts she initiated and, sensitive to the changing needs of society, supported new and forward-looking programs.
The Helena Rubinstein Foundation ceased operations at the end of 2011 (press statement). Over its nearly 60 year history, the Foundation distributed over $130 million, primarily to education and community-based organizations in New York City. Foundation assets included an archive of more than 600 photographs, documenting the career of Helena Rubinstein, which is now in the care of the library at the Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York.