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PAUL CÉSAR HELLEU Vannes 1859 - 1927 Paris
Double Portrait of the Artist's Daughter Ellen.
Drawing in black, red and white chalk; circa 1902-03. Signed: Helleu.
Against the wishes of his widowed mother, Helleu went to Paris in 1876 having got a place at the École des Beaux-Arts where he began studies with one of the leading academic painters of the day, Jean-Léon Gérome. At the second Impressionist exhibition of 1876 he met Whistler, Monet and John Singer Sargent. His friendship with Giovanni Boldini inclined him toward the style for which he was to become famous, characterized by elegant linear contours with dashing use of three color shading.
Public acceptance in the late 1870s eluded Helleu until Sargent, impressed with his technique, offered to buy one of his paintings. By 1884 Helleu had begun to receive commissions and at this time he was commissioned to paint a portrait of the fourteen-year old Alice Guérin. The two fell desperately in love and were finally permitted by her parents to marry in 1886. Her beauty and refinement soon endeared them to Paris society and Helleu became an important portraitist, painting and drawing the rich, the famous and the infamous of France and England.
If the artist’s brilliant technique was often at the service of glamorous portraits of beau-monde (and demi-monde), it ought to be admitted that Helleu could also turn this technique to more personal ends. His drawing of his beloved daughter Ellen (1887-1956), c. 1902-3 demonstrates his bravura style, and as well, a certain psychological penetration. Depicted twice, the Ellen at the right seems to look at Ellen on the left with ambivalent curiosity, suggesting the conflicting emotions of a young woman, obviously beautiful and just beginning to realize it, coming of age in an atmosphere of refinement and public awareness of her femininity.
274 x 613 mm 10 13/16 x 24 1/8 inches