A rare monochrome variant of the colour drypoint depicting the young Jean Helleu drawing on board a yacht. An excellent rich impression. Superbly mounted and framed in a hand painted blue mount with an exceptional decorative frame. Frame dimensions 25 1/4 x 21 1/4 inches. From the 1890s Helleu's success as a society portraitist allowed him to develop a passion for sailing, which was to provide many motifs for his pictures. In 1898 Helleu rented a yacht, the Barbara. The following year he purchased the Bird, the first of several yachts that he owned. The Helleus summered in Deauville and sailed the Channel to equally fashionable Cowes, where the Royal Yacht Squadron hosted Cowes Week and the artist mingled with members of British high society who also became his clients. This drypoint depicts Jean his son sketching on the bridge of the Bird. Helleu had met the flame-haired Alice Guérin in 1884, when she was fourteen and he twenty-four; they married two years later. Described by her daughter Paulette, Mrs Howard-Johnson, as having ‘a great deal of taste, a sharp mind and an unfailingly sweet nature', Alice remained Helleu’s muse for the rest of his life. Alice and her children were frequently portrayed by Helleu aboard the family’s various yachts. Figaro Illustré in September 1901 devoted a whole issue to Helleu’s yachting pictures, seeing yachting as a defining passion of the times: ‘L’amusant, le joli, le passionnant bibelot qu’un yacht, surtout un yacht à voiles! Et si moderne, si expressif des moeurs et des élégances d’aujourd’hui!’
Signature: Signed in Pencil
About Paul-César Helleu
Paul-César Helleu captured the gaiety of the Belle-Epoque with his society portraits of beautiful young women (he rarely depicted anyone else) drawn in large format with sweeping lines. Classifying his work along the lines of “posed portraits”, “portraits seized in a moment”, or “intricate affectionate studies”, he produced formal compositions, family scenes, and nudes, both in outdoor and interior settings. He worked in the newly popular medium of printmaking, eventually adopting drypoint etching as his preferred technique because it has the spontaneity of rapid sketches. Over the course of his career, Helleu created over 1,500 color and black-and-white prints, many in editions of only one or two. He is heralded for capturing the soft fibers of the furs and plumes that adorned his fashionable subjects.
French, 1859-1927, Vannes, France, based in Paris, France