Wednesday, April 23, 2008

500 Years...Who Was Annette?

If you were a painter in the 19th century, it would be a good day at the gallery if the first painting you ever sold was bought by John Singer Sargent. That's how Paul César Helleu started his career.

We've already seen two examples of eyebrows in art history via the video 500 Years of Women in Art. Below is a pastel by Helleu, featured about two minutes into the montage. It dates from 1909, and the sitter certainly has some fine brows.

As nice as it is, my absolute favorite Helleu is another pastel called Portrait of Annette, wearing a white hat. This woman's pretty face is portrayed with a sensitivity and care that makes you just smile. Isn't she fine?

Here's a detail. Don't forget to always click so you can enjoy images full size:

Scroll-down sloppy provenance work: The Richard Green Gallery says this is inscribed "A Mme Annette Helleu." It's possible that this is what the inscription says. But the gallery also says that the sitter is "Mrs. Miles Bingham." So maybe Miles Bingham married a woman named Annette, but in that case, her name wouldn't be "Mme Annette Helleu." Helleu himself married Alice Guerin. I squinted at the signature in the Green Gallery's hi-rez image, and I think the name "Helleu" is just there as the artist's signature. Not the sitter's name.

If any detectives out there want to find out whether Miles Bingham's wife was named Annette, let me know how it goes. Here's a clue: her uncle was Lord Duveen (the Elginist!).

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