Museum director of Asian art, historian of twentieth-century French art. Salles was the son of Adolphe Salles and Claire Eiffel, the daughter of Gustav Eiffel. As a boy he spent time in his famous grandfather's house and met many prominent people. As a young man he met most of the Fauves and Cubist artists. As a student he studied literature and law. Salles fought as a soldier in the First World War, twice winning the Croix de Guerre. He excavated sites in Iran, Afghanistan and China. He served as secretary to the Direction des Beaux-Arts between 1921 and 1924. In 1926 he joined the Louvre Museum, rising to curator at the Department of Asian Art. He and Georges Duthuit authored a book on Byzatine art in 1933. In 1941 he became director of the Musée Guimet. A member of the resistence during World War II, he was the chief reason, according to his British counterpart, Kenneth Clark, that so many works of French museums were spared from destruction. After the war, Salles was appointed Director of Museums of France, 1945. His mandate was to bring provincial museum up to the quality of the major French institutions. He established many special-interest museums in the provinces. In 1953 Salles commissioned Georges Braque to decorate the ceiling of the Henry II (or Etruscan) room in the Palais du Louvre. The same year he became second president of ICOM, the International Council of Museums. He received a KBE from Great Britain in 1954. Salles pressed for a modern art museum with a broad public mission, joined by Jean Cassou. He published Histoire des Arts de l'Orient (History of Arts of the East) and Au Louvre, scènes de la vie du musée, and Le Regard in 1939. After his retirement in 1957, he joined André Malraux to edit the book series L'Univers des formes. He died in a German nursing home at age 77. His personal preference in art was for the non-figurative art of Persia and the middle east (Clark). In French art he admired Picasso and Matisse, both of whom drew his portrait. Salles was an Anglofile and one of the first French art historians to recognize the importance of Henry Moore as a sculptor.
20 October 1966
L'institution des consulats: son origine, son développement au moyen-âge, chez les différents peuples. Paris: E. Leroux, 1898; and Volbach, Wolfgang, and Duthuit, Georges. Art byzantin; cent planches reproduisant un grand nombre de pièces choisies parmi les plus représentatives des diverses. Paris: A. Lévy, 1933;
Ashton, Dore. "Big Task Finished: French Museums' Head Starts Another Scope of the Plans." New York Times October 27, 1957, p. X11; [obituary:] Clark, Kenneth. "M. Georges Salles Former Director Of Louvre." Times (London) October 27, 1966, p.14