Helleu, Paul César (1859-1927)
Paul César Helleu is a French painter born in Vannes. At 17, he was admitted to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, in the studio of the famous orientalist painter Gérôme. However, his interest was rather for outdoor painting, very popular in the nineteenth century. He befriended Whistler and then with Claude Monet whom he met at the merchant Durand-Ruel. He was also very close to the collector and man of letters, Robert de Montesquiou. In 1884, Helleu received Madame Guérin’s order for the portrait of her 14-year-old daughter, Alice, who will become his wife. These are his beginnings as a portrait painter. At the end of the nineteenth century, the painter had already initiated too many different subjects: portraits, the landscape of Versailles, the Marines but he is also the author of stained glass cathedrals. He met Marcel Proust who became his friend and who inspired him the character of the painter Elster in Search of Lost Time. His work appeared as innovative in the eyes of his contemporaries. Elegance and grace were characteristic in his works, an integral part of his creation, and this is certainly what made his international recognition (especially in Paris, London and New York). Her portraits of elegant women have been very successful in the United States. He even received an order for the hall ceiling of the Grand Central Terminal in New York. His work is composed of many portraits, painted or engraved, which translate well the time when bourgeois confronted and industrial civilization. His daughter Paulette Howard-Johnson (deceased in 2009) bequeathed the entire collection from his father’s workshop at the Bonnat Museum in Bayonne, now the Bonnat-Helleu Museum.