Paul César Elleux is the consummate master of elegant female portraiture

Paul César Elleux. Portrait of Clara Weill
Portrait of Clara Weill

The consummate master of elegant female portraiture in the history of French art

Paul César Helleu (December 17, 1859 March 23, 1927) famous French painter and printmaker of the late XIX early XX centuries. Paul César Elleux gained fame as a talented artist, first of all, thanks to the refined portraits of beautiful women of his era. He was proficient in the drypoint technique and produced over 1,500 beautiful prints, as well as many oil, pastel and watercolors. The work of the master was strongly influenced by fellow Impressionists, and there are many interesting facts in his biography.

Paul César Elleux was a sociable person and easily got along with people. Among his closest friends are the artists Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent and James Whistler, as well as the writer Marcel Proust and the woman fashion designer Coco Chanel.

Paul César Elleux. Portrait of Madame Marcel Cassaguet
Portrait of Madame Marcel Cassaguet

Biography of Paul Cesar Elleux

Paul César Elleux was born on December 17, 1859 in the city of Van, located in the north-west of France, where his father served as a customs inspector. Since childhood, the boy was fond of drawing and after graduating from high school, he firmly intended to become an artist. Unfortunately, Paul lost his father early, after whose death he was forced to leave to study at the state expense in the Parisian Lyceum of Chaptal.

Graduates of this educational institution enjoyed privileges when enrolling in the university, so bright prospects for becoming an economist or engineer opened up for Elle. But the young man did not change his dream and, despite the insistent requests of his mother to abandon the career of an artist, in 1876 he entered the Paris School of Fine Arts, in the workshop of Jean-Léon Gérôme.

Paul César Elleux. Woman and flowers
Woman and flowers

At the age of sixteen, Paul first visited an exhibition of the Impressionists, whose works made a huge impression on him. While still a student, he met many representatives of this direction of painting and began to paint portraits on his own, but without much success. The young artist was constantly short of money, so, having received a diploma of graduation from the university, he got a job in a company that produces painted ceramic plates.

During this difficult period of his life, Elleu was greatly helped by his friend Sargent, who was four years older and was already earning decent money. John supported Paul not only morally, but also financially, paying a thousand francs for one of his friend’s works. Soon the life of the young painter began to gradually improve, he was able to quit his job at a ceramic decor company and devote himself entirely to painting.

Paul César Elleux. Feather hat
Feather hat

The year 1885 was marked by two significant events for Elle.

First, he visited London, where he met James Whistler and many other British painters. And secondly, Paul discovered the dry needle technique and became interested in the creation of engravings, which subsequently brought him no less income than paintings.

Paul César Elleux. Portrait of a Lady with a Fan
Portrait of a Lady with a Fan

In 1886, Paul César Elleux married sixteen-year-old Alice Guerin, with whom he lived happily in marriage until the end of his days. The artist was passionately in love with his wife, she repeatedly became the main character of his graphic works. In their marriage, they had four children three daughters and a son, Jean-Pierre Paul, who followed in his father’s footsteps and also became a famous master of painting.

By the early 1890s, Elleux was already considered a fashionable Parisian portrait painter. The main heroines of his paintings and prints were charming young women who appear before the audience in luxurious outfits. Paul’s works were in high demand among the public and this brought the family a large income. The artist was able to acquire not only a house in the center of the French capital, but also bought several yachts, on which he enjoyed spending his free time with his wife and children.

Portrait of a seated lady
Portrait of a seated lady
Paul César Elleux made his living not only by painting portraits.

In his work, he repeatedly turned to the landscape genre, created several series of paintings and engravings depicting French cathedrals, as well as many floral sketches. In 1902, he first visited New York, and later came to the United States twice more. All over the world, the artist’s works enjoyed great success, and visitors eagerly came to his solo exhibitions.


In 1920, after returning from his last trip to America, Elleu experienced a serious creative crisis. In the era of avant-garde art gaining momentum, he felt useless and outdated. The outstanding master deliberately decided to retire and devote the rest of his life to his family.

Only shortly before his death, he suddenly caught fire with the idea of ​​holding a large-scale exhibition of his works, but these plans were not destined to come true. On March 23, 1927, at the age of 67, Paul César Elleux died in Paris from acute peritonitis after an unsuccessful stomach operation. The family dynasty of artists was continued by his son Jean-Pierre Paul, and later by his grandson Jacques (Jacques Helleu), a talented French landscape painter who was born 11 years after his grandfather’s death.

Family lunch at the Ritz hotel in New York
Family lunch at the Ritz hotel in New York
The most famous works of Paul Cesar Elleux

The ingenious master of painting and engraving has created many wonderful works of art. And yet, some of the most famous works by Paul César Elleux include:

  • “Portrait of Alice Guerin” (1885) is a painting during which the young artist passionately fell in love with his future wife. And the young beauty with long red hair subsequently became his faithful friend and muse for life.
  • Camara (1905) is a portrait of a young Parisian lady in an elegant hat. The heroine of the picture carefully looks at the viewer, causing a feeling of sincere admiration for her beauty.
  • “Lady with Flowers” (1910) a work written by the master in cold blue tones. A young woman in a traditional Victorian outfit looks away from the viewer with enthusiasm, and her perfect figure looks luxurious against the backdrop of a sea of ​​flowers.
  • The ceiling painting of New York Central Station (1912) is a large-scale mural depicting the constellations of the Zodiac crossing the Milky Way. In 1930, the painting was covered with plaster, but at the end of the 20th century it was completely restored according to the author’s original sketches.

Paul César Elleu at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries was one of the most sought-after painters in France and a recognized master of female portraiture. And nowadays, visitors to museums and exhibitions around the world are happy to admire his magnificent masterpieces.

John Sargent. Portrait of Paul Elleux, c. 1885-1889
John Sargent. Portrait of Paul Elleux, c. 1885-1889
Ladies in Ritz, New York
Ladies in Ritz, New York
Paul Elleux. Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, 1901
Paul Elleux. Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough, 1901