DECEMBER 17, ON THIS DAY
Paul Cesar Helleu was a French oil painter, pastelist, drypoint engraver, and designer most renowned for his countless depictions of stunning Belle Epoque society women. He also designed the constellation ceiling painting at Grand Central Terminal in New York City. Helleu also created elegant and vibrant landscape paintings, drawing inspiration from his impressionist friends. His paintings, etchings, and drypoint prints were among those that best encapsulated contemporary elegance. He skillfully embodied feminine charm, providing us with an important mirror of the society that Marcel Proust wrote about in his books. Among the most notable pictures of the \”Belle Epoque\” were his high-society figures, feminine shapes, and athletic scenes of the elegant world.
Paul-Cesar Helleu was born on December 17, 1859 in Vannes, France. After experimenting with engraving and ceramics, Helleu made the decision to pursue painting. He began his studies at the National School of Fine Arts with Jean-Leon Gerome. Helleu began hand-painting beautiful ornamental plates for Theodore Deck Ceramique Française after graduating. He also met Giovanni Boldini, a facile, bravura portraitist who became a friend and mentor to him and had a significant impact on his future artistic direction, during this period. Old churches, gothic naves, and stained glass windows were Helleu\’s initial topics. Later, he created scenes from Versailles and landscapes. However, Helleu\’s fame was cemented by his perceptions of Parisian society in the early 20th century.
With his large-format, sweeping-line society pictures of stunning young women, Paul-Cesar Helleu caught the merriment of the Belle-Epoque. He made formal compositions, family situations, and nudity in both outdoor and indoor settings. He categorized his work along the lines of \”posed portraits,\” \”portraits grabbed in a moment,\” or \”intricate affectionate studies.\” After getting to know James Jacques Tissot, he tried drypoint etching for the first time in 1885. He produced nearly two thousand etchings over the ensuing decades, occasionally only producing one or two copies of each subject. The sensual texture of fur and plumes that dominate his outstanding paintings of society\’s most beautiful women at the end of the nineteenth century are qualities that no other artist was able to replicate.
A favorite was Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American-born Duchess of Marlborough, whom he met in 1900. Other notable individuals who sat for him included Queen Alexandre, Princess Patricia of Connaught, Comtesse de Greiffuhle, and Madelaine Le Maire. His illustrious clients helped him gain access to society in both England and the USA, where he was hired in 1912 to create the ceiling for the Great Hall of New York\’s Grand Central Station. In addition, he was awarded the Legion of Honor in 1904 and was an honorary member of the International Society of Sculptors, Painters, and Gravers of London. Contemporary commentators frequently linked the simplicity and refinement of his works to those of Lancret and Watteau. His wife Alice Guérin was the most frequently depicted woman he painted. These family pictures exhibit a certain intimacy and emotion.