On 3 August 1914, Chauveau was called up as a military surgeon in World War I. He worked in a hospital in the Paris region and then near the Front in mobile medical units, at frontline treatment post, and at hospital in Souilly, south of Verdun.
Practicing medicine in peace time had repelled Chauveau, but he was happier as a military surgeon, even though the work was difficult. He was more fulfilled treating fit young soldiers than tending the sick on a daily basis. On postcards to his family, “the paternal monster” drew companions who reflected his state of mind. One sketch shows “the joyful dance of a monster waiting for leave”.
Chauveau witnessed the horrors of war, but also suffered personal bereavements with the deaths of two sons, his wife, father, and best friend Georges Lacombe. He describes these bereavements in La mort a passé (Death Came) and gives an account of his war years among the wounded in Behind the Battle, published in 1916.
“Even as a young child, I already loved anything monstrous. At that point I had only seen the gargoyles on some cathedrals and a few Chinese and Japanese monsters, but I already felt that this was a world that suited me.”
We know that Chauveau developed a passion at a very early age for the fantastical sculptures on cathedrals and Far-Eastern monsters.
Although he does not mention them specifically, other sources may include pre-Columbian art, the seething scenes of Flemish Renaissance engravings, contemporary satirical images, and Symbolism. While all of these works, consciously or otherwise, shaped his visual universe, Chauveau’s monsters form a unique group in their quantity, diversity, and touching appeal.