This piece depicts Madame Helleu seated at a secretaire in the couple’s home with her back to the viewer. Pieces of the elegant décor in the Helleu home can be seen all around. The top left contains a porcelain koi, three 18th century gilded chairs, various pictures including Boldini’s Leda and the Swan known to have hung in that space in the Helleu family’s drawing room. The secretaire itself, still in the Helleu family collection, is petite and elegant. With loose brushstroke the artists has evoked the reddish brown of the mahogany and the subtle gilt designs. The secretaire and the figure of Madame Helleu in her lovely white dress reinforce the vertical orientation of the piece, as do the brushstrokes in the paint of the wall and the upholstery of the chairs.
Though the viewer does not see the face of the sitter the piece is not a cold one, indeed the feeling is very intimate. The use of pastel colours as well as the attention to the very centre of the canvas pulls the viewer into the world of Madame Helleu, and by extension the artist himself. The painting has also been set up in such a way that parts of objects exists out of the picture plain such as the back of the chair on the left. That technique suggests to the viewer a whole room and highlights the presence of the artist as well. The Repetition of colour in the wood of the secretaire and Mdm. Helleu’s hair creates a central focus of the piece.
Alice Helleu was one of the artist’s favourite models throughout his career and posed for him often. This intimate home interior scene is a wonderfully tender example of Paul-Cesar Helleu’s oeuvre.