No other artist epitomizes the whole atmosphere of elegance and hedonistic pleasure which pervaded Paris society at the first decade of the century as does Helleu. A cost friend of Proust and the inspiration for one of the century as does Helleu. A cost friend of Proust and the inspiration for one of the principle characters in La Recherche du Temps Perdu. Helleu’s whole life style echoed the incomparable elegance and flow of his drawing, the sheer style of his art, and his eye for the poses of the beautiful women who were his friends and his patrons.
During the 1870’s, Helleu had come to know the painters of Impressionism and also artists Sargent and Whistler who became his special friends and inspiration. By the early 1880’s, he had already developed the quality of expressive sweeping line, which is the essence of his drawing, but in 1885he was encouraged by Tissot to try working on prints in drypoint. At this time, Tissot had decided, after the death of his lower and model Kathleen Newton, to travel to the Holy Land on an artistic pilgrimage. Having decided he would no longer engrave, he have Helleu his diamond stylus… a literal and figurative “passing of the baton”. It was in the incision and texture of drypoint that his art was to reach one of its greatest peaks. He had an innate feel for the balance between a light curving stroke and the deeply cut highly tonal burr of the strongest drypoint. Around the ten of the century he started to combine drypoint with multi-inking in colors, the areas of color restricted to such touches as the bows on the hats, the hair color or the red of the lips. The plate was drawn at a single sitting, and then the color inks were brushed onto it.
The results are some of the most splendid and decorative of all Belle Epoque prints.
French painter and engraver, Paul-Cesar Helleu was born in Vannes on December 17, 1859. After working with ceramics and engraving, Helleu decided to study painting. He began his training with Jean-Leon Gerome at the National School of Fine Arts.
Helleu’s first subjects were old churches, gothic naves, and stained glass windows. He later painted landscapes and scenes of Versailles. Yet it was his early 20th Century views of Parisian society that established Helleu’s reputation.
His worldly effigies, female silhouettes, and sportive scenes of the elegant class, are among the most precise images of the “belle époque.” His refined style is evident in his etchings and drypoints, as well as his canvases.
Helleu was a member of the National Society of Fine Arts beginning in 1893. He was also an honorary member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Engravers in London; and after 1904, he was decorated for the Legion of Honor.
Helleu’s works are part of collections of the Boston Museum, the Louvre, and the Luxembourg Museum.
Paul-Cesar Helleu died in Paris on March 23, 1927.