The land of monsters. Léopold Chauveau (1870-1940)
In addition to being a doctor - a profession forced on him by family obligations but which he himself did not enjoy -, Léopold Chauveau took refuge in a strange, self-taught artistic universe, both singular and original in equal measures. A sculptor, illustrator and author of books for adults and children, he long remained forgotten in the history of art, before a gift by his grandson to the Musée d'Orsay in 2017 (18 sculptures and 100 drawings) brought his name back into the limelight.
An atypical figure, Chauveau taught himself sculpture around 1905 after several years of practising medicine. From 1907 onwards, monsters became a leitmotif in his creations, both in his sculptures and his drawings.
These hybrid creatures were often endearing, clumsy, and almost amazed by their own existence. Almost as though escaped from his subconscious, Chauveau saw them as genuine companions, the people of an imaginary world in which he found refuge.
Despite their eccentricity, the artist’s sculpted monsters form part of a genealogy of art history, particularly in reference to medieval gargoyles and Japanese influences. In his drawings, Chauveau adopted a concise and incisive stroke to portray his characters in a naive style against simplified yet explicit décors.
His compositions reflect the narrative and sometimes dramatic dimension of his series.
As of the 1920s, he conjured up monstrous landscapes: antediluvian or desert-like expanses where biomorphic monsters roam and yield to strange activities. Chauveau also illustrated the great classics (The Old and New Testament, La Fontaine's Fables), for which he revised the text in places (The Tale of the Fox), and also created loveable and incredible stories of animals and children.
This exhibition provides an entirely new insight into a work that was without equal at its time. It is structured around two parts: the personality, life and work of Léopold Chauveau, and his children’s universe that will leave young visitors mesmerised.