LÉON SALLES (1868-1952)
Léon Auguste Salles was born December 31, 1868. He was descended from a family of farmers from Montgeron, France, a southeastern suburb of Paris located in the department of Essone. His father, Isadore Alfred Salles, and his mother, Marie Louise Valerie Hubert, were wine merchants at 13 Rue Notre-Dame des Victories after moving to Paris from the countryside.
Salles studied at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs from 1884 to 1888 and under Auguste Boulard (1852-1927), a French painter and printmaker. He exhibited frequently at the Societé des Artistes-Français association of French painters annual exhibition Salon des Artistes-Français where he was awarded medals for his works in 1894 and 1896. In 1900 he was the recipient of a bronze medal at the Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair.) In 1926 he was honored with the title of Knight of the Legion of Honor for 47 years of engraving practice. One of his most notable exhibitions in the Salon resulted in the Medal of Honor as published in Le Petit Journal on June 3, 1938: “The medal of honor of the Salon for the engraving section: Mr. Léon Salles, aquafortist, is designated by his peers. The medallists of the engraving and lithography section of the Societé des Artistes Français came together to award the medal of honor, which is the highest award given by the Salon. It was Mr. Léon Salles, an aquafortist, that was awarded this award. Léon Salles is a Parisan from Paris.”
Léon Salles’ main body of works were reproductive etchings. The reproductive print was a detailed illustration of a work of art by a well-known artist. It made popular paintings widely available, because of their affordability, to middle-class buyers. Among Salles’ reproductive prints we find “La Bohémienne” (1891) after Franz Hals, “Miss Francis Harris (1894) after Reynolds, “The Doctor” (1896) after Fildes, as well as “Les Jeunes” after Goya, and “Coin de Table” (1905) after Paul Chabas. However, reproductive etchings fell out of favor in the early 20th century due to the advancement of photography. After WWI Salles seems to devote his talent to the production of rather formal portraits, including an official portrait made for the inauguration of the House of Denmark at the Cité Universitaire.
Émile Humblot, a landscape painter and aquafortiste, as well as senator of Joinville (Haute-Marne) was a pupil and friend of Léon Salles. A quote from an unconfirmed source is attributed to Léon Salles while addressing a young student, Jean Archimbaud, who was introduced to him by Émile Humblot: “With what you know how to do, you have no right to let go, but do not confine yourself to that! Engraving does not make a family live.” This comment may reflect the financial situation Salles himself was experiencing despite his position as a recognized artist. Many artists would supplement their income by producing works of a more commercial nature. In Salles’ case we have found that he would make color etchings of popular tourist sights throughout France and Belgium. To differentiate from his official productions such as the reproductive etchings or the portraits that he exhibited in the Salon, he would usually sign these lesser works utilizing his mother’s maiden name: Hubert. This other side of his craft is evidenced by prints signed either Hubert or less frequently Léon Salles but very rarely both. It is confirmed by the September 17, 1926 issue of the local newspaper LA VIGIE DE DIEPPE announcing an exhibition of color prints in a local bookshop. The article states “whether signed Menager or Hubert all bear the mark of the same talent, both vigorous and soft, and the same knowledge, sound and refined, because they are all authored by Mr. Léon Salles.”
Little has been documented about Léon Salles personal life. He was married on April 19, 1906 to Marie Joseph Françoise Tirel in Paris. Sadly, she died within a year of their marriage. On January 15, 1908 he married Berthe Céline Porcabeuf in Paris, Veme. The Porcabeuf family were among the most prestigious printers in Paris in the first half of the twentieth century. This family tie was relevant considering the prolificacy of his etching works particularly those of Hubert. Léon Salles died in May, 1952 in Nice, France.