Some personal thoughts on two marvelous summer exhibits in Paris

“Helena Rubinstein, l’Aventure de la beauté” and “Elie Nadelman, Vers la beauté”

Encouraged by Dr. Pick Keobandith, our long-time friend and collaborator in international cultural projects past, painter/photographer Jacques Chuilon and I ventured around the corner to see “Helena Rubinstein: l’aventure de la beauté,” a marvelous homage currently on view in one of the most beautiful mansions in the Marais in Paris, the Museum of Jewish History and Art (the former Hôtel Saint-Aignan). By the same token, Pick announced to us that she was preparing the curation of a show centered on the drawings of sculptor Elie Nadelman (1882-1946), to be held simultaneously at the Polish Library in Paris, situated on the elegant Quai d’Orléans, and considered “home” to all Polish immigrants to this country since around 1850. Apparently there was a connection of which I was not yet aware.

The unexpected effect of viewing the Rubinstein show, wonderfully curated by Michèle Fitoussi and profoundly explored in her book “Helena Rubinstein, La femme qui inventa la beauté”, was overwhelming. The theme: the quest for Beauty, in its purest essence — and also its evanescent fragility — was speaking directly to me and registered 100%. Far from the cliché of a powerful merchandising magnate, exploiting female consumers around the world, I discovered her life-long struggle in the backstory of the woman and the artists, behind the enterprise. She was a collector of fine art on a scale such as we can barely imagine today: paintings and sculpture from all periods, maintaining sumptuously decorated personal residences from Park Avenue in New York to apartments on the embankments of Paris, all displayed and furnished with artwork commissioned by the finest and most renowned creators of her time, and documented by the finest photographers, from Dora Maar to Cecil Beaton. And this, I discovered, is the connection to Elie Nadelman, also of Polish birth and a naturalized American citizen, in that way similar to the legendary queen of beauty, who had immigrated from her humble roots in Krakow. She knew, with her keen eye, that this artist was indeed a creator of great and rare importance. She not only encouraged Nadelman, her personal collection prominently contained many marble pieces by this wonderful sculptor, and in the show we can see how she even had herself photographed among several of the masterpieces she had acquired while she was building her global empire.

So in a most connected event that took place later on July 3rd, we were again privileged to attend the opening night of the Elie Nadelman exhibit consecrating several rare drawings of projects for large sculptures, sketches entitled “études,” the French word he chose himself, which describes so well the struggle of creation and the different steps towards ultimate perfection in marble. This was in the same manner of Chopin, beloved and defended with passion by the Polish Library (they hold several of the composer’s artifacts, manuscripts, even a period Pleyel piano) who wrote several “études.” At the clever suggestion of Jacques Chuilon, that night we heard, very appropriately, a charming interlude of Chopin’s ‘Trois nouvelles études’ (posthumous) played by the young and promising Narumi Iwase during the presentation, which was delightfully followed by a traditional Polish fruit cake and a divine white wine called Natella 2017, offered by the Georgian winemakers Tsinandali Estate / Silk Road Group. This was also the occasion to meet and greet such ambassadors as Miguel Verzbolovskis (Panama) and Maksymilian Liszewski (Poland).

The Helena Rubinstein specialist Michèle Fitoussi was also present, and charming to talk to as she shared with me her insights, as well as the masterfully articulate Prof. Xavier Deryng who gave us a private tour of the Chopin collection. Especially delightful to me was meeting and speaking to Cynthia Nadelman, the grand-daughter of the great sculptor, who resides in New York City, herself very knowledgeable concerning these rare works, and who shared her broad culture and love of beauty in general. We compared notes about the famous pair of sculptures that now decorate the entrance hall of the New York State Theater, Lincoln Center, where I happen to have performed several times with the New York City Opera. It turns out she and her friend Dr. Catherine Tinker, also present, had seen one of my performances there, in ‘Agrippina’ by Handel!

A thank you to the intrepid Barbara Dietrich (Diplomatic World) for her helpful participation, and thank you to our friend, Pick, the spirited and devoted art historian and gallerist whom we met so many years ago in Canton, China, for this extraordinary artistic journey, and “bonne continuation” with your many future projects with your innovative program: Inspiring Culture!

Gregory Reinhart, formerly of the Paris Opera

All Photos © Jacques Chuilon