Paul César Helleu worked as a painter and an engraver in France at the turn of the century. His work epitomises the charm and elegance of French culture at the time – the belle époque – with all its verve and focus on fashion.
Helleu immortalised many beautiful women in paint and graphite because he became the darling of fashionable, aristocratic ladies at the time (including Coco Chanel).
Helleu was born in Vannes in 1859 and moved to Paris as a young man. He later became a pupil of Jean Leon Gérome at the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts and became a lifelong friend of fellow student John Singer Sargent. Gérome was to buy his first painting. Artists including Monet, Rodin and Tissot also recognised his talent whilst he was studying in Paris (he was later formally accepted as part of the Impressionist group). In fact, Tissot gave Helleu his own engraving tools because he was in such despair after the death of his beloved Kathleen Newton that he was unable to use them to make art. As a result, Helleu became an excellent drypoint engraver and one can see those skills for draughtsmanship and fine line work in this particular piece.