Paul César Helleu's Madame Helleu sur son yacht L'etoile
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Madame Helleu sur son yacht L'etoile
circa 1898-1900.
Paul César Helleu (1859-1927) French painter
Oil on canvas
81.3 x 65.1cm (32 x 25 5/8 in)
Signed Helleu (lower right)
jpg: Sothebys 

From Sothebys

Paul-César Helleu was one of the most successful and popular portraitists of his lifetime. A close friend of John Singer Sargent, Helleu shared his colleague's interest in a luxurious lifestyle, as seen in his passion for yachting. This beau monde way of life did not easily reconcile with Helleu's concurrent friendships with many of the Impressionists, including Monet and Degas, but Helleu's ability to recognize talent across cultural predilections became a hallmark of his oeuvre.
Helleu was born in Brittany and, despite the disapproval of his widowed mother, entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at the age of seventeen. While working at the Ecole as a ceramics painter, he met and was painted by Giovanni Boldini, an artist who greatly influenced Helleu's style and decision to focus on portraiture. At the age of twenty-five, Helleu painted the fourteen year old Alice Guérin, whose mother had brought her to Helleu's studio. He fell madly in love with her and two years later her parents agreed to the marriage. Alice remained Helleu's great love for the rest of his life and her portraits were his most famous as she "became the embodiment of his elegant and dramatic style that most captures the Belle Epoque." (Paul-César Helleu (1859-1927) (exhibition catalogue), Spink and Son, Ltd., London, 1984, introduction n.p.)
Madame Helleu sur son Yacht, L'Etoile features Alice elegantly seated aboard the Helleu's personal yacht, the grand /'Etoile; the work relates to several other paintings of the same subject (see fig. 2). Helleu spent several months each year sailing between Normandy and England often with friends and colleagues aboard, including Sargent and Boldini. Surviving photographs illustrate the prodigious attention Madame Helleu and her companions devoted to fashion, as seen in one image that captures her in the chic style of hat worn for the painting (see fig. 1). Madame Helleu sur son Yacht, L'Etoile dates to the turn of the century, Helleu's mature period, when his confidence in brushwork, composition and color combine to create remarkable canvases. In this work, Alice's pink dress is set off harmoniously by the red ribbons of her chair, while the blue of the sea leads directly to her hat and down through her face. The strictly diagonal compostion gives the canvas a feeling of movement and highlights the vertical line of Alice's back as she gracefully poses.
(Sothebys )



Private Collection, France (acquired in 1910)
Sale: Cornette de St. Cyr, Paris, December 11, 1999, lot 7 


Chartres, Musée des Beaux Arts, 1991, no. 111 
Honfleur, Musée Eugène Boudin, Paul Helleu, 1993, no. 21

L'art et les Artistes, 1906, pp 7-8


Sold at Sothebys, New York, 19 May 06, Session 1,  10:15 AM,  Sale N07991 lot 241, 344,000 USD


By:  Natasha Wallace
Copyright 1998-2004 all rights reserved
Created 5/4/2004
Updated 5/10/2004