Musée d'Orsay: The land of monsters. Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940)

The land of monsters. Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940)

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The classics revisited

Léopold ChauveauFables de la Fontaine / The rat that has withdrawn from the world© DR
Several groups of pen and ink, watercolour and gouache drawings by Chauveau illustrate classics of literature: the Bible (1920-1921), La Fontaine’s Fables (1921), and Reynard the Fox, a mediaeval fabliau which he rewrote and modernised as Le Roman de Renard (1928 and 1936).

By choosing to illustrate the Bible, Chauveau joins a long-established iconographic tradition ranging from mediaeval illuminations and stained glass windows to more recent illustrations by Gustave Doré and James Tissot, which were very popular at the turn of the twentieth century. He also demonstrates an affinity with the synthetic and colourful world of the Nabi artists, notably Maurice Denis and Charles Filiger, who admired the simplicity of Italian Primitive painters and icons.

The Fables occupy a key place in his work. In his autobiographical text The Dreaming Child, he confides: “La Fontaine was the only schoolbook I opened voluntarily.” As an adult, he cultivated this love of the author; he memorised and recited the fables to ward off melancholy and encouraged children to learn them by heart. He not only illustrated over 70 fables, but also drew both literary and aesthetic inspiration from their concise and pithy form and combined their poetry with a philosophy which he put into practice in everyday life.

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