Paul César HELLEU (Vannes 1859 - Paris 1927)
A Young Woman Asleep
Black, red and white chalks on buff paper.
Signed Helleu in red chalk at the lower right centre.
480 x 670 mm.
This is a particularly fine example of Helleu’s practice of producing large-scale drawings in a combination of red, black and white chalks, which were almost certainly intended as independent works of art in their own right. Many of these drawings depict the artist’s favourite model, his wife Alice Guérin, whom he married in 1886, when she was sixteen years old. A woman of great beauty, Alice Helleu was the embodiment of the artist’s lifelong penchant for depicting elegant women. She had striking, long auburn hair, whose abundant tresses she would pin up on occasion. An elegant woman of reserved manners, she was always depicted by her husband dressed in stylish clothes, often wearing hats from the finest Parisian milliners.
The intimate subject of the present sheet would suggest that the model was Alice Helleu, whom the artist often depicted deep in thought, reading a book or asleep in a chair; she is also occasionally shown with one of her young children. Helleu did, however, also occasionally portray other women sleeping, such as in a large drypoint etching of the actress Madeleine Carlier asleep on a couch, executed around 1900, and a drawing of The Duchess of Marlborough Asleep on a Settee with her Dog of the same date, today in the Musée Bonnat-Helleu in Bayonne.
A number of large and stylistically comparable 'trois crayons' drawings of a pensive Alice Helleu are today in private collections; these all have the appearance of finished works of art, rather than preparatory studies or sketches. As one recent scholar has written, ‘Many of Helleu’s best and most delightful productions are his portraits of his wife...These quick impressions, drawings or dry-points, are extraordinarily effective and have a much subtler appeal than the long series of commissioned portraits of fashionable ladies and celebrated beauties that helped bring him fame and fortune.’
Anonymous sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 22 March 2010, lot 29
Private collection, UK
Anonymous sale, London, Sotheby’s, 22 May 2014, lot 48
Private collection, France.