Artwork Analysis > To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

To the discovery of a work by Jean Hélion

Jean Hélion, “The Bed”, 1948, gouache on paper, 50.5 x 65 cm


Our two friends are gone, leaving the bed where one of them is seated. Is the bed alone? No.

A sweet dialogue begins between its perpendicular lines, the light-colored flooring, and the red watercolor edge of the white carpet.   This stresses the size and the depth of the room.  They create a theatrical scene where the bed, hidden in the first picture, becomes the major element of the drawing.  The bed, softly lit by the light that the creamy white gouache walls subdued by a curtain, stands against the wall in line with the direction of the floor boards.  It is covered from top to bottom by, a long white sheet which touches the floor.

This is our hero in person.

Silent, the bed speaks through the folds of the sheet.

Drawn in charcoal, stylized and coming directly from the abstract vocabulary that Hélion invented before 1939, the rigid, angular contours are nonetheless powerful giving the folds a tumultuous character, revealing human activity. Perhaps even that of our friend seated in the former picture…

The play between shadows and light, whose rhythm suggests the depth, is defined by the hachures and the cavities of the folds. White gouache lines, outlined by charcoal on the crests, shed light on them in a dialogue where, in this case, painting doesn’t surpass drawing.

The general effect is that of a sculptural model as if it was a Greek marble statue. Death bed?


The red fringe of the carpet brings a joyous feminine touch. We can’t help thinking of Penelope at the homecoming of Ulysses….

Hélion dialogues with the Masters of Antiquity like he likes to do with humanity, with no attention paid to frontiers or time or pictorial vocabulary.

For the “allegoric resonance” *is there.

It is just this Hélion’s drawing: drawing reality close to mankind, without emotion or realism, so that it gives us all the force of its symbolism and poetry.

And if you look closely you will see that the dialogue doesn’t end there.  You will find your dreams and souvenirs what the reality (in this bed) evokes for you.

  • Henry-Claude Cousseau:  Hélion, Alain Margaron Edition