Paul César HELLEU (1859-1927) ~ Pastel Portraits ✿

Paul César Helleu (1859 -1927) was a French oil painter, pastel artist, drypoint etcher, and designer, best known for his numerous portraits of beautiful society women of the Belle Époque. He also conceived the ceiling mural of night sky constellations for Grand Central Terminal in New York City. He was also the father of Jean Helleu and the grandfather of Jacques Helleu, both artistic directors for Parfums Chanel.

In 1904, Helleu was awarded the Légion d'honneur and became one of the most celebrated artists of the Edwardian era in both Paris and London. He was an honorary member in important beaux-arts societies, including the International Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers, headed by Auguste Rodin, and the Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

On his second trip to the United States in 1912, Helleu was awarded the commission to design was the ceiling decoration in New York City's Grand Central Terminal. He decided on a mural of a blue-green night sky covered by the starry signs of the zodiac that cross the Milky Way. Although the astrological design was widely admired, the ceiling was covered in the 1930s. More than sixty years later, in 1998, it was completely restored.

Helleu made his last trip to New York City in 1920 for an exhibition of his work, but he realized that the Belle Époque was over. He felt out of touch, and shortly after his return to France, he destroyed nearly all of his copper plates, retiring to family life. While planning for a new exhibition with Jean-Louis Forain, he died of peritonitis following surgery in Paris, in 1927 at age 67. Among many of Helleu's friends was Coco Chanel, who picked beige as her signature colour upon the advice of the artist the colour of the sand on the beach of Biarritz in the early morning. Both his son Jean Helleu and his grandson Jacques Helleu became artistic directors for Parfums Chanel.

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