The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Paul-César-François Helleu, 1859-1927

Nationality: French
Date of Birth: 1859.12.17
Place of Birth: Vannes
Date of Death: 1927.03.23
Place of Death: Paris


Paul-César-François Helleu was a painter and printmaker; in 1886 he married Alice Guérin.


Helleu had a classical education in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts from 1870 under Jean-Léon Gérôme. However, in his maturity he began to paint en plein-air in an Impressionist style and Degas invited him to exhibit at the Impressionist exhibition of 1886. In this year James Tissot, appointed Helleu his artistic successor, giving him the diamond he had used for his drypoints.

Helleu made a considerable reputation producing portraits of fashionable figures in this medium. He exhibited fifty-nine drypoints at the Robert Dunthorne Gallery in London in 1895, for which Edmond de Goncourt wrote an introduction in the catalogue.

His works in both drypoint and oil show the influence of Japanese prints in their unusual angles and perspectives. In 1887 he met Comte Robert de Montesquiou who was to become his patron, friend and biographer. Helleu was also close friends with John Singer Sargeant, Edgar Degas, Alfred Stevens, Giovanni Boldini and Whistler, of whom he made a drypoint portrait.

According to Rieder, Whistler greatly admired the white colour scheme in one of Helleu's rooms.


De Montesquiou, R., Paul Helleu: Peintre et Graveur (Paris, 1913); A.-M. Bergeret-Gourbin and M.-L. Imhoff (eds.), Exposition Paul Helleu, Musée Boudin, Honfleur, 1993; Abdy, Jane, 'Paul-César-François Helleu', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 22 March 2002).