A confident watercolourist and draughtsman, Ernest Lessieux developed a career as both a teacher and an exhibiting artist. Moving from La Rochelle to Menton, on the Riviera, he became popular with English visitors, in particular, who took lessons from him and bought his work. This success enabled him to make a number of sketching tours around the Mediterranean and so broaden his range, often in the company of his son, the artist Louis Lessieux. Ernest Lessieux was born on 3 August 1848, at 2 Rue du Brave Rondeau, La Rochelle, the capital of the department of Charente-Maritime, on the west coast of France. he was the second of four children of the stained glass painter, Louis Jean Lessieux, and his wife, Marie Catherine (née Guillon). Until 1862, he attended the Ecole Municipale, in Nantes, some 85 miles north of La Rochelle.
he then remained in the town to work in the studio of a painter and decorator.
In 1865, Lessieux moved to Paris to study at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts under the draughtsman and printmaker, Maxime Lalanne, and the painter and illustrator, Luc-Olivier Merson. Five years later, in 1870, he volunteered to serve in the army in the war against Prussia. When it ended, in 1871, he returned to his native department, and settled in Rue des Fonderies, Rochefort. (The street has since been divided and renamed as rue de la République and rue Pujos.) There he became both curator of the museum and a teacher of drawing at the Lycée. In the same year, he married Victorine Virginie Boisramé in La Rochelle. Their only child, Louis Ernest, would be born in 1874. Once established, in 1878, he began to exhibit annually at the Salon des Artistes Françaises.
Between 1884 and 1886, Lessieux stayed with his family in Menton, on the Riviera, for the sake of his health. Just over a decade later, in 1897, they settled in the town, in Maison Cerutti, Rue de la Marne, a house decorated with murals by the local artist, Guillaume Cerutti-Maori. Lessieux soon became successful and wealthy by giving lessons in art, mainly to the many English visitors. He also exhibited work regularly at the Salle Grenier with the Société des Amis des Arts de Menton, of which he was a promoter, then the Vice-President and the Dean.
Lessieux spent time at La Cotinière, a newly-acquired house on the Ile D’oléron, close to Rochefort, and also began to undertake extensive sketching tours to Italy, Spain and Morocco, often in the company of his son, Louis, who had become his pupil. Louis is known to have helped his father produce the images of cruise ships that were commissioned by the Compagnie Générale des Transatlantiques for publication as postcards and posters. Lessieux’s other illustrative projects included further postcard designs and two books: Jules Bourelly’s Les Perles de la Côte d’Azur (1900), and Les Alpes Françaises (circa 1910). In 1909, he was made a member of the Salon while, in 1923, he was awarded the title officier de l’Instruction Publique.
Lessieux died at home, at the Maison Cerrutti, Menton, on 4 January 1925. A month later, a memorial exhibition was mounted at the Salle Grenier, by his son, Louis, who had also become a professional artist. In February 1926, a marble bust of Lessieux by his friend, the Russian sculptor, Léopold Bernstamm, was placed in a square between the museum and his former home.
His work is represented in numerous French public collections.
Further reading Christophe Huguet and Sophie Lessard (eds), Oléron, dans les pas d’Ernest et de Louis Lessieux, Saint-Pierre D’oléron: Le Musée de l’Ile D’oléron, 2008