Paul César HELLEU (Vannes 1859 - Paris 1927)

Portrait of a Young Girl Wearing a Beret Sold

Pastel on blue-grey paper.
A partial study of a standing male nude in black chalk on the verso.
Signed and dated P. Helleu 80 at the upper left.
405 x 327 mm.

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Signed and dated 1880, the present sheet is an early work by Helleu, and demonstrates that his skill as a pastellist was already evident at the very beginning of his career. The signature is that used by the artist in the early 1880’s, while the style of the pastel is similar to that of a painting of the same year donated to Musée La Cohue in Vannes by the artist’s daughter in 1996. Helleu’s reputation was, to a large extent, established by his pastel portraits. He exhibited a number of large pastel portraits at the Salons of 1885 and 1886, where they were greatly admired, and his career was launched with a large exhibition of pastels at the Galerie Petit in 1888. Helleu continued to work in pastel throughout his career, mainly for portraits but also for floral subjects, and exhibited these works frequently at the Société des Pastellistes.

The striking red hair of the sitter in this pastel portrait is a favourite motif of the artist (the critic Félix Fénéon once noted of Helleu that ‘like M. [Albert] Besnard he delights in the prestige of red hair’), and the appearance of this young girl is in fact reminiscent of Helleu’s favourite model, his wife Alice Guérin, whom he married in 1886 when she was sixteen years old. There is indeed a strong resemblance between the girl depicted in this pastel and Helleu’s later portraits of Alice, who would have been ten years old at the time this pastel was drawn. However, the artist is not thought to have met Alice until several years later, in 1884. This is the date of the earliest known pastel portrait of her by Helleu; commissioned by her parents, M. and Mme. Louis-Guérin, it is today in the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne.

Provenance:
Purchased in Paris in the 1940’s by Viscount Paul de Rossier
By descent to his widow, Viscountess Harriet de Rossier, until 2008.

Literature:
Frédérique de Watrigant, ed., Paul-César Helleu, Paris, 2014, illustrated p.96
To be included in the forthcoming Helleu catalogue raisonné, in preparation by Les Amis de Paul-César Helleu.

Paul César HELLEU

Portrait of a Young Girl Wearing a Beret

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