At the beginning of the twentieth century, Paul César Helleu's painting, now acclaimed and recognizable beyond European borders, opened up a new creative season.
From the painter's hands, a gallery of characters came to life, women above all, interpreters of an increasingly independent femininity. He studied them carefully while caressing the canvas to obtain the best effects of colour, and finally he captures them with virtuoso touches of the brush on the pictorial support. Helleu remains attentive to what Charles Baudelaire implies: to that frivolity, which, for women, is the fashion of a dress, the style of a hat or hairdo; but at the same time Helleu is determined to extract a synthetic, essential and dazzling image from each model, capable of seducing the public with the exceptional quality of the painting and with the immediate perception of the model's own vitality.
It is in the instant of spontaneous, unconventional gestures that Helleu captures the most intimate and true essence of femininity from his models, as in this study of Mademoiselle de Conquis' heads. With a fast flowing graphic sign, supported by touches of sanguine and white chalk commas, the painter returns the collected space of the scene.
Simple and ideal at the same time, the protagonist of this painting is the icon, the imaginary prototype of that type of modern and emancipated woman, who is well suited to the definition of femmes-fleur, coined by Robert de Montesquiou: "feminine buds unveiled to the charm of life, divine examples of women, whose only wisdom seems to be that of not making a mistake in choosing the poet of their beauty".
Paul César Helleu
(Vannes 1859 - Paris 1927)
Mademoiselle Conquis, study of heads, c. 1890
black, red and white chalks on paper, 34 x 48 cm
Signed lower left: Helleu
Richard Green, London; Alon Zakaim, London; collezione private, Paris.