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

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

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The interwar period

Léopold ChauveauMonstrous landscape, n°52
Chauveau’s second marriage, to nurse Madeleine Lamy, finally gave him the financial security he needed to give up medicine and devote himself to writing and illustration in the 1920s.
His childhood friend, the academic and journalist Paul Desjardins, invited him to his literary gatherings known as the “Décades de Pontigny”.

These meetings with some of the most prominent European intellectuals allowed him to forge deep and lasting friendships with André Gide, André Malraux, and Roger Martin du Gard. With Monsieur Lyonnet (1930) and Pauline Grospain (1932), Chauveau became a novelist in the new populist literary genre championed by Martin du Gard. In Pontigny, he also met the founders of the Nouvelle revue française, later to become Gallimard, which published two of his novels.

Although he achieved some recognition for his literary works and children’s stories, his drawings and sculptures were still unknown. Chauveau abandoned sculpture and devoted himself to the very colourful series Monstrous Landscapes, which demonstrates a mastery of the gouache and watercolour wash technique which is quite extraordinary for a self-taught artist.

 

A politically committed artist

Léopold ChauveauStory of the big tree that ate little children, n°7© DR
As an antimilitarist, appalled by all types of extremism and the rise of fascism, Chauveau brought a sharp and aloof eye to bear on his era.
He sympathised with communist ideas, but refused to become a member of the French Communist Party in order to retain his freedom of action.

However, he did engage in the intellectual debates of the era by signing the response to the Manifesto of Fascist Intellectuals published in 1935, and condemning colonialism.

In the late 1930s, Chauveau, who was suffering from kidney disease, became increasingly pessimistic as his health declined.
He turned his back on communism after the signature of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact in August 1939. When war was declared, he kept a diary to stave off anxiety and boredom.

He claimed that inspiration had deserted him and that he could only write short pieces which he called “Postcards”. However, he continued to draw “Monstrous landscapes” until his death.

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