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Madame Helleu

In a world before television and supermodels, an artist’s vision often set the standard for female beauty. Such was the case with Paul-César Helleu, a young Impressionist painter and student of Jean-Léon Gérôme. Known as a superb draftsman who described himself as “the grandson of Ingres, ” Helleu is best remembered for his portraits of fashionable society women. It was his wife Alice, however, who proved his perfect subject, posing for countless paintings, drawings, and drypoint prints.

While this drawing shows the twenty-two-year-old Alice in a typical pose, she seems less passive than many of his commissioned portraits. Despite her demure white dress, she possesses an inner fire. She stares directly out at the viewer, suggesting both boredom and self-confidence. Her assertiveness—or flirtatiousness—is heightened by the use of fiery, red chalk and aggressive diagonal lines.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection also includes a suite of three prints featuring Madame Helleu, The Framed Face (Eskenazi Museum of Art 2012.144.1-.3), and a recto-verso sketch of her by John Singer Sargent (Eskenazi Museum of Art 73.14.1A-. B).

Paul César Helleu
French, 1859–1927
Madame Helleu
1901
Red, black, and white chalk on paper
Image/sheet: 20 ½ x 18 3/16 in. (52.1 x 46.2 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 73.14.2