Jean Chaleyé’s long life was devoted to art even from his earliest years. He was born in 1878 in Saint-Etienne and spent much of his childhood with a grandfather who forged and did sculptures at Trébuche where Chaleyé painted his first landscapes. He also attended the regional school of Industrial Arts of Saint-Etienne. In 1896, Chaleyé won a scholarship to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Lyon and entered the floral class. The silk industry of Lyon used many floral motifs and looked to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts as a source for them. Chaleyé changed and lightened these motifs, winning a gold medal from the school and a scholarship from the City of Lyon which permitted him to go to Paris to complete his formation.
In 1899, Chaleyé entered the Ecole National Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs of Paris, becoming such a brilliant student that he was made the massier or student in charge by the director, Louvrier de Lajolais. The following year Chaleyé entered the Ecole National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts in the atelier of Cormon to continue his interest in painting. He met Cassatt, Dunoyer de Ségonzac and Dérain and spent much time painting in the gardens of the Luxembourg.
The year 1903 brought a change in Chaleyé’s life. He moved to Puy to create designs for lace and did this work for three years, introducing motifs different from the geometric patterns which, until then, had dominated the lace industry of the Haute-Loire. His work was so revolutionary and so successful that it was exhibited in 1904 at the Musée Galliéra of Paris; in 1905 at the International Exhibition in Liège; he won a prize in 1907 in a national French competition; the gold medal of the Brussels International Exhibition; a gold medal in 1911 at the Turin International Exhibition. His designs for lace are now in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, in various provincial museums and the Musée de Saint-Gall in Switzerland.
In 1912, Chaleyé married and moved to Espaly. He resumed painting full time, intending to exhibit his paintings in Paris in 1914, but the war and his military service intervened. By 1918, he was back in civilian life and devoting his energies to painting. In Paris he had met a number of the Barbizon painters, and he had been dazzled by the armfuls of flowers that Manet, though ill and immobilized in his garden at Rueil, painted in perfumed sheaves. Though Chaleyé had long done landscapes and figure paintings, he now made floral still lifes his specialty. He brought to them rich color and lyricism, communicating his own spirited admiration for floral motifs and rendering them light, transparent, sumptuous and moving. They mark the height of his powers as a painter.
In 1931, Chaleyé was made director of the Roubaix Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts as well as Conservator of the Musée de Roubaix. He remained director of the Roubaix Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts until he retired in 1939. In 1937, he was made an Officer of the Légion d’Honneur.
Jean Chaleyé died in 1960. After his death, the house in which he had lived in Puy was turned into the Musée Chaleyé. In his lifetime he had exhibited in Paris, Lille, Roubaix and Lyon and in the Salon des Indépendants. He was further honored by two retrospective exhibitions held in Paris, one in 1979 and one in 1983.
Chaleyé’s work is in the following museums: Ville de Paris; French State; Clermont-Ferrand; Puy; Roubaix; Saint-Etienne; Laval; Musée des Arts Décoratifs.