Leroux in 1903 with Mitzi Dalti, one of his favourite models

As far as Jules Marie Auguste Leroux was concerned, art ran in his blood; not only was he one of the most sought-after popular artists of the interwar period, his father was a publisher of prints, and all three of his children – Madeleine (1902–84), Lucienne (1903–81) and André (1911–1997) – went on to be exhibited and prizewinning artists. A skilled and talented artist himself, a constant flow of commissions for figurative work meant he was rarely experimental or edgy, but he was not averse to testing the erotic boundaries of ‘good taste’ when the opportunity arose.

As a young man in Paris he entered the École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs, then in 1892 he was then admitted to the École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, where he studied in the studio of Léon Bonnat (1833–1922). He achieved early success, winning several prestigious drawing medals, a prize for figure drawing, and the first Grand Prix de Rome in June 1894 with a painting of Judith with the head of Holofernes. The three years from 1895 saw him studying in Rome at the Villa Medici, and more prizes followed his return to Paris, including a bronze medal at the Universal Exhibition of 1900.

One of Auguste Leroux’s many trademark ballet dancers

In 1906 he married Clotilde Morel, and two years later they moved to a large house, Villa d’Alesia, in the district of Petit-Montrouge, where he lived for the rest of his life. The top floor, covered with a large glass roof, became his workshop. Very much an establishment artist, he was a professor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris for thirty years, a jury member of the committee of French Artists Society, a teacher at the Academy de la Grande Chaumiere, and a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

A Leroux engraving from 1923, showing his more risqué side

As well as painting in oils and watercolours, Leroux was a skilled lithographer, and worked with many of the greatest engravers of his time including Eugene Decisy, Raoul Serres and Jules Léon Perrichon. 

Starting in the early 1920s, Auguste Leroux became more interested in book illustration, developing a sought-after style using vibrant colour washes over a soft pencil ground. Among the authors whose works he illustrated were Joris-Karl Huysmans, Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Stendhal and Anatole France.

The pinnacle of his book illustration work is the two hundred paintings he made for Mémoires de Casanova, which also being some of his most erotic work is the reason he is included here.

Example illustration