A crayon drawing in black and sanguine on wove paper. Signed lower left "Helleu."
No other artist epitomizes the elegance and joie de vivre of European society at the end of the 19th century as does Helleu. A close friend of Proust and the inspiration for one of the principal characters in La Recherche du Temps Perdu, Helleu's lifestyle echoed the incomparable elegance of the beautiful women who were his friends and his patrons. During the 1870's, Helleu became acquainted with several of the Impressionists and developed important friendships with artists such as John Singer Sargent and Whistler. By the early I880s, he had already developed the quality of expressive sweeping line, which is the essence of his drawing, but in 1885 he was encouraged by Tissot to try working on prints in drypoint. At this time, Tissot had decided, after the death of his lover and model Kathleen Newton, to travel to the Holy Land on an artistic pilgrimage. Having decided he would no longer engrave, he gave Helleu his diamond stylus -- a literal and figurative "passing of the baton." It was in the incision and texture of drypoint that his art was to reach one of its greatest peaks. He had an innate feel for the balance between a lightly curving stroke and the deeply cut highly tonal burr of the strongest drypoint. The resulting works are among the finest of all Belle Époque prints.