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Rubin, Harold De Vahl (1899–1964)

by Lynne Seear

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Harold De Vahl Rubin (1899-1964), grazier, art-collector and philanthropist, was born on 3 January 1899 at Carlton, Melbourne, younger son of Mark Rubin, a diamond merchant from Kovno, Russia (Lithuania), and his Victorian-born wife Rebecca, née Davis. Harold began his education at Broome, Western Australia, where his father owned a pearling fleet. After the family moved to London, he attended University College School, Hampstead (1908-15), and Eton College (1916). Commissioned in the 5th Battalion, Coldstream Guards, in February 1917, he served with the 38th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), and was promoted lieutenant in January 1918. He returned to civilian life in 1919.

On 8 July 1925 at the Synagogue, Hampstead, Rubin married Marcelle Yvonne Raphael; the marriage was to end in divorce. Left a fortune by his father (who had died in 1919), he set up as a pearl merchant in London in the mid-1920s. During the 1930s he expanded the family's pastoral holdings in Queensland and Western Australia, and began to collect paintings. His next three marriages also ended in divorce: at the register office, Westminster, he married 20-year-old Leila Hyde on 17 October 1940, 25-year-old Elizabeth Wilkie Cameron on 11 July 1945, and 24-year-old Marie Spain on 30 December 1948. He was again commissioned in the British Army in October 1941. Demobilized in 1945 with the honorary rank of major, he worked as an art dealer at 20 Brook Street, London.

Major Rubin returned to Australia in 1950 to run his extensive grazing interests which included Queensland Pastoral Estates and properties on the De Grey River in Western Australia. He lived at Toorak House, a mansion built by Sir James Dickson at Hamilton, Brisbane, but regularly visited his 17,000-acre (6880 ha) property Pikedale, near Stanthorpe, and kept a flat at the Astor in Macquarie Street, Sydney. On 18 November 1959 at the general registry office, Brisbane, he married Julia Eleanora Gvozdic, née Hanselman, a 30-year-old divorcee known as Julie Muller.

In 1959 Rubin facilitated the Queensland Art Gallery's acquisition of seven important European paintings from his private collection, comprising works by Picasso, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec and Vlaminck which were valued in all at £126,504. The most significant was Picasso's 'La Belle Hollandaise' (1905), painted in the years between the artist's 'blue' and 'rose' periods. Rubin was prescient in recognizing what he called its 'exquisite tenderness'. The painting is frequently requested for inclusion in major international exhibitions of Picasso's art.

After undergoing a major operation in 1956 at St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney, Rubin became a benefactor of the hospital. In 1958 he financed St Vincent's purchase of Babworth House, Sir Samuel Hordern's home at Darling Point, and provided the money needed to equip it as an after-care annexe, which was opened in August 1961. Overall, he gave an estimated £500,000 to hospitals and medical research.

Rubin was a man of eccentric habits, but he initiated many of the bizarre stories about himself, making it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. In the late 1950s he founded the Queensland chapter of the International Goldfish Club (membership was restricted to those who were prepared to swallow a live goldfish) to raise money for the Miss Australia Quest. His city residences were filled with paintings, stacked face to face, as well as with live and stuffed exotic and domestic birds—'parrots, lorikeets, budgies, canaries, finches and sparrows'. He bought entire exhibitions of work by young painters; Robert Hughes, who became an art critic, benefited from his largesse.

In 1962 Rubin was converted to Catholicism. He died of cancer on 7 March 1964 at St Helen's Hospital, South Brisbane, and was buried with Catholic rites in Canberra cemetery. His wife and their son survived him, as did the son of each of his first and third marriages; the son of his fourth marriage predeceased him. Rubin's estate was sworn for probate at $949,342. He bequeathed eighteen paintings to the government of Israel. The bulk of his art collection, which had once numbered four hundred works, including sixty paintings by (Sir) William Dobell, was sold by auction between 1971 and 1973.

Select Bibliography

  • Nation (Sydney), 18 Apr 1964
  • Bulletin, 19 Nov 1991
  • J. Hopkins, Centenary History of the Queensland Art Gallery: Chronology of Events, Acquisitions, Exhibitions and Personalities (manuscript, 1995, Queensland Art Gallery Research Library)
  • donor file, H. Rubin (Queensland Art Gallery Research Library).

Citation details

Lynne Seear, 'Rubin, Harold De Vahl (1899–1964)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rubin-harold-de-vahl-11581/text20673, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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