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Madame Helleu with a Parasol

Portraitist Paul César Helleu fell in love with fourteen-year-old Alice Guérin when she came to his studio for a sitting. After waiting two years, they married. The beautiful red-head quickly became his favorite model. She was also an ideal hostess, who was said to have possessed great charm, intellect, and beauty. One admirer recalled her as “that woman, of whom I often think as the model of wives, one of the few wives who have ever seemed to me to redeem the state of marriage.” Her attributes were not lost on their close circle of friends, including American artist Sargent and French novelist Marcel Proust, who may have based the artist’s wife/model in À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time) on her. Her reclining pose and hat in Sargent’s drawing are similar to those in his painting Paul Helleu Sketching with His Wife (Brooklyn Museum). This sheet also includes a graphite drawing of Madame Helleu at her dressing table on the verso (Eskenazi Museum of Art 73.14.1B).

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection also includes a drawing of Madame Helleu (Eskenazi Museum of Art 73.14.2) and three color variations of The Framed Face (Eskenazi Museum of Art 2012.144.1-.3) by her husband.

John Singer Sargent
American, 1856–1925
Madame Helleu with a Parasol
ca. 1889
Black chalk on paper
Image: 13 9/16 x 9 7/16 in. (34.4 x 24.0 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 73.14.1A