Description & Technical information

Throughout his career, Helleu made many charming drawings and sketches – often in a distinctive trois crayons technique - of his wife and their three children, as well as relatives and family friends. The present sheet 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 often 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, or his children Ellen, Paulette and Jean. 

This large sheet is one of a series of drawings used as illustrations to Chansons simplettes pour les petits enfants (‘Simple Songs for Small Children’), a book of nine songs or ‘little poems’ published by Lucie Faure-Goyau in 1906 and containing seven full-page illustrations of young girls drawn in trois crayons by Helleu. In the book, this drawing accompanied the song Fermez les rideaux (‘Close the Curtains’). As Robert de Montesquiou noted, in his 1913 book on Helleu, ‘Fermez les Rideaux…is a small masterpiece. In the evening, at her window, the child invincibly turns her eyes to the darkness that both attracts her and terrifies her, for… ‘At the top of the curtains is a heart. This dread black heart against pink curtains is terrifying…Between the curtains lo’ how night peers in like a prisoner from his cell.’’ The model for the present sheet may have been the artist’s elder daughter Ellen, born in 1887.

Two other drawings by Helleu for the Chansons simplettes pour les petits enfants are illustrated in a recent monograph on the artist.

Medium: Black, red and white chalks on buff paper
Signature: Signed Helleu in pencil at the lower right.

Dimensions: 76.3 x 56.5 cm (30 x 22¹/₄ inches)
Provenance: Private collection, France
Anonymous sale (‘De Caillebotte à Calder: Itinéraire d’une Passion’), Paris, Christie’s, 24 March 2021, lot 121.
Literature: Lucie Félix-Faure Goyau, Chansons simplettes pour les petits enfants, Paris, 1906; Frédérique de Watrigant, ed., Paul-César Helleu, Paris, 2014, illustrated p.77.
Categories: Paintings, Drawings & Prints