The gift of 526 drawings and 48 sculptures to the Musée d’Orsay from Léopold Chauveau’s grandson Marc Chauveau has made it possible to study and rediscovery this neglected but fascinating artist. Although he exhibited on several occasions, whole aspects of his work have never been seen before and fame has eluded him. Today, the Musée d’Orsay is paying him a long overdue tribute.
A doctor by profession, Chauveau began creating art at the age of 35, without any formal training. He did not give up his medical career to become a full-time artist and writer until he was in his fifties. His multifaceted work includes sculptures, drawings, illustrations and stories for children, novels, and short stories.
This exhibition provides an opportunity to immerse oneself in his work and gain an insight into his sources of inspiration and contemporaries. Although his work is unusual, it reflects its era and is still very current.
Léopold Chauveau was born in Lyon in 1870, the son of a renowned researcher in the veterinary and medical field. His father encouraged him to study medicine in Paris. He married in 1897 and soon began to practice this profession which he disliked.
The family settled in Versailles in 1902. The Nabi painter and sculptor Georges Lacombe lived in the same neighbourhood and they became firm friends. Chauveau took up woodcarving in his spare time, probably on the advice of Lacombe. He quickly abandoned wood in favour of more malleable materials: wax and plaster. In around 1905, he began modelling monsters, which became the main subject of his sculptures.
The family moved frequently prior to World War I, from Algeria to Switzerland via the Savoie region, doubtless due to Léopold’s malaise and dissatisfaction with his career.