Enviable auction collection for prominent Melbourne scholar, businesswoman and art diva

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 20th February, 2018

Scholar, successful businesswoman and in 1977 one of the founders of the Jewish Museum of Australia, the late June Helmer (who died last year aged 95) spared no expense travelling the world to study Jewish art collections and museums.

Her efforts resulted in June becoming the first adviser on the museum’s Australian collections, curator of its first exhibitions and a vital fundraiser.

In doing so, June also built an enviable art and decorative arts collection – to be auctioned from 10am Thursday February 22 through Leonard Joel 333 Malvern Road, South Yarra. 

Denied the opportunity as a young woman to study for an arts degree at University of Melbourne, in later life she became one of its oldest students – completing a bachelor then masters degree in fine arts.

June Helmer was born in 1922 in Melbourne of the Russian Kogan and Granat families and educated at St Catherine’s girls’ private school.

In 1943, she met and she met and shortly after married Pole Maurice Helmer – beginning a partnership that lasted 50 years.

Together, they became successful in one of Melbourne’s toughest businesses, the schmattes trade, with June providing the designs and marketing and Maurice the capital.

Her entrée into the art world – where she met several well-known Australian artists including Yosl Bergner and Daniel Vassilieff – resulted in 1985 in the publication of her first book, George Bell: The Art of Influence.

Bell (1878-1966), who lived for almost 88 years and spent a lifetime devoted to the art cause, had a many-sided career as an artist, teacher, critic and polemicist and laid the foundation on which many notable careers were built.

In her book, June wrote the lack of recognition for Bell pointed to a certain small mindedness and personal prejudice among those who controlled the art scene and allowed differences of opinion to cloud their judgement of the artist’s achievements.

Despite this, recognition of his “valuable contribution to art” came shortly before his death.

June’s book was followed by many academic articles and publications on subjects diverse as the Ribush theatre family, Australian museum collections, and artist Louis Kahan, to whom he dedicated several books of his drawings.

The auction collection features several works of art and other items including John Perceval’s Flowers 1961, an untitled print by Yosl Bergner, Daniel Vassilieff’s Boy and goat gouache and watercolour, and George Bell’s reclining nude mixed media on paper.

Other auction highlights include a William IV double pedestal sideboard, a pair fo sterling silver three-branch candelabra, a Georgian inspired six-piece sterling silver tea and coffee suite, a St Louis gilded glass dining suite and a Limoges art Persan pattern dinner set.

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