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The little monster was not born like a human child, yelling with cold and terror as he left his mother’s womb. He had come to life little by little, on the high, three-legged bench. When his eyes had opened, they met the eyes of the broad-shouldered sculptor, watching them tenderly.

For days, and still more days, under the caress of the hands moulding and modelling him, he had felt his being take shape, take definite form, until at last he had become completely himself. Then the man had carried him onto a rack and left.

That night, the abandoned little monster felt dead with sorrow, weighed down by anguish.  Tears fell from his eyes.  One struck and shook his chest.  With an effort, he made his lungs dilate, and at once felt great joy surging through him, air flooding in, life thumping with fast heartbeats, rushing to his limbs, warming his whole body.

He became supple.  He stretched upright. He sat down. He turned his head to the right. He turned his head to the left. In the darkness, his eyes saw strangely shaped stiff and immobile beings.

He examined them with curiosity, without wonder because he did not know they were strangely shaped, without fear because he already loved them tenderly. He saw that they too were growing supple.

Folded limbs stretched. Closed eyes opened. Chests swelled then subsided with a sigh. Huge yawns opened toothless mouths. Vertebrae bristled on skeletons’ spines. Fleshy nostrils throbbed and snored. Beaks clattered. Toes clenched. Trunks swung on the end of fat faces. Arms rose and stretched to become wings. Tails rippled like snakes or wiggled like stumps. Ears hung like rags or drew up like sword-tips. Bellies floated like empty bags or bulged like full waterskins. Fleshy tongues emerged like tumours from between thin lips.

The little monster understood that all these monsters were his brothers, born before him, giving him a fraternal welcome.

The door opened. A light shone. The broad-shouldered sculptor came into a workshop, teeming now with life.

He sat in the old worn armchair, smiling.

Then his children sprang towards him.

Those who were crouched on the bookcase, above the last row of books, shot down, clinging onto the brown backs of the old folios.

Others, hugging the feet of the high benches, slid to the ground.

From the chimney, from the table, from the footstools, from the racks, leapt monsters that had slept all through the day.

A black frog, with a flaccid belly, spread out on the sculptor’s knees.

A white bird, perched on the back of the old worn armchair, waved a tapir’s trunk. He let a muscular kangaroo’s tail hang behind him. He swept the air with two great piercing wings.

Others, who looked like no known being, roosted on the sculptor’s shoulder, playing with the grey locks of his hair.

Still others nibbled his hands, straddled his feet, crouched in his pockets.

All their eyes, some half hidden under puffy lids, some sunk into sockets that were too deep, some filling to the edges the round holes carved into their skulls with a cookie cutter, some jiggling around like fruits on the end of long stems, watched him, full of tenderness.

He took them one after the other into his arms. He caressed them. Each quivered with delight at the touch of his fingers. 

Then he left.

With him went the light.

With him, too, went life.

The monsters climbed painfully onto the backs of the folios, onto the feet of the benches, onto the footstools. They jumped awkwardly onto the racks, onto the hearth.

They took back their customary places. There they stayed, stiff and immobile, until the next day.

Every evening, the father came in the same way to bid farewell to his monster children. Sometimes he was gay. Then his sons felt further apart.

Sometimes he was sad. They loved how his sadness brought him closer, gave more sweetness to his caress.

A few times, very rarely, he did not come. Then they remained frigid and frozen, like the dead.

One day, the little monster was taken away, to be cast in bronze.

He had been waiting so long for this solemn moment, knowing all his brothers had left limp, fragile, insubstantial, as he himself was still, to come back as he now saw them—stronger, more solid, more beautiful.

He knew he would be subjected to a harsh ordeal.  Still, he was joyful. He felt himself being suffocated in a thick shell that climbed, climbed around his legs, crushed his belly, encircled his chest, clotted his mouth, his nostrils, his eyes, until at last it covered him completely. His anguish returned. He thought that he was going to die. He was bricked up alive in a prison that moulded him, right down to the most secret recesses of his body.

Soon a dreadful iron burned him. Molten metal slipped into his body. The wax he had been made of melted. It oozed bubbling out of his vent hole. He lost consciousness 

When he came round, black, cracked, rugged hands relieved him of his matrix. He was surprised to support their rough touch without pain.

‘Hey! Hey!’ said the caster. ‘He’s come out well. Hello, wretched creature!’

The little monster was very ugly, covered with dross, covered with slag, gashed with jutting scars.

His brothers were happy to see him again. They knew that he had not yet suffered the last trials, from which he must emerge completely renewed.

The very next day, he knew again the joy of being placed on the high work-bench, abandoning himself to the fingers of the sculptor.

This time their caresses were rough. The chisel battered his flesh without pity. Soon it was a very sweet pleasure for him to feel, under the abrupt blows of the hammer, his form take back its relief, to feel the dross fall, the slag fall, the scars disappear, the ribs of his skeleton emerge sharp, emerge lively, his limbs grow marked, grow hollow, his crooked legs grow stronger, his back brace itself vigorous, proud.

Then he was rested on the rack he had sat on before.

Other monsters were born on the high, three-legged benches.

In the daytime, they all slept. Their eyes were blind. Their ears were deaf. They did not see the mocking laughs deforming the mouths in front of them. They did not hear the gibes of witty people, poking fun at their contorted shapes, in such elegant language.

They woke at nightfall. The door opened. The light shone. The broad-shouldered sculptor came into a studio starting to teem with life.

Then, their eyes were no longer blind. Their ears were no longer deaf. They listened to the beloved voice of their father.

He became sadder every day. His sons, his dear sons, were a subject of mockery. Nobody liked them. Nobody understood them. They were presumed to be children of madness. He alone cherished them.  They had no mother.  He alone had brought them into the world.

He said, ‘What will become of you when I am no longer there to protect you? Soon I won’t be! Death will take me. But you? You could be almost eternal!’

They, frightened by his sadness, no longer dared come down towards him to receive his caress.

One night, his brow was darker than ever. During the day, the laughs of his friends had been more resoundingly cruel than they had yet dared. Sitting in his old worn armchair, he felt disgust at life. He heard, faltering, the call of death.

The little monster leaned forward to console him with gentle words. He saw what mysterious suffering clenched that face, what awful distress took the light from those eyes. Then he said nothing. He leaned further. With his hard skull, he shattered the skull under those thin grey locks.

Never again would the monsters return to life. A scrap merchant bought them by the metal weight. Bronze, which had been their flesh, became those sad church bells that ring the knell, those even sadder cow bells tolling nostalgia, tolling death in dark mountain valleys.


Léopold Chauveau (Lyon 1870- Sérigny 1940) trained as a medical doctor to satisfy his father, Auguste, a distinguished professor of veterinary science. From around 1905 to 1922, Chauveau sculpted sympathetic ‘monsters’ at night in a range of materials (plaster; bronze; wood) and drawing on a range of influences, from zoology to medieval gargoyles and East Asian art. He referred to these fantastical beasts as his ‘companions’, giving each a burlesque name. Throughout his life, Chauveau struggled with human interaction. He felt particular distaste for medical work and moulding the strange bodies of his monstrous friends served as catharsis for daytime encounters with the human body.  In 1922, following Auguste’s death, Léopold Chauveau resigned as a doctor and also stopped sculpting. He devoted his last two decades to work as a writer, watercolourist and sketcher, best known for his illustrated children’s stories. Chauveau recreated his son, Renaud (1906-18), as a fictional co-storyteller, exploring themes both of grief and of children’s autonomy. In 1938, he delivered a lecture arguing against didacticism in children’s literature. Chauveau’s first book, a memoir on his experiences as an army surgeon, was published earlier, in 1917. Chauveau also wrote four novellas, an adaptation of the medieval beast epic Roman de Renart, and a book of prose poems, as well as personal writings like ‘Le Petit Monstre’ that were first published after his death. Besides illustrations for his own stories, Chauveau’s paintings and drawings include portraits of monsters, ‘monstrous landscapes’, and scenes from the Bible, La Fontaine’s Fables, and the Roman de Renart. At the link, it is possible to browse reproductions both of Chauveau’s sculptures and his works on paper.  Chauveau enjoyed friendships with prestigious writers, including the Nobel laureates André Gide and Roger Martin du Gard, as well as with the Nabi group of visual artists. Despite their efforts to promote the work of their prolific but shy friend, Chauveau remained relatively neglected during his lifetime. Since the 1990s, there have been a number of new editions of his children’s books, and his memoir was republished in 2017. Many children’s stories are available in Japanese translation, and in 2005 Japanese animator Koji Yamamura adapted Chauveau’s story ‘Le vieux crocodile’ for The Old Crocodile, an award-winning short film using Chauveau’s original illustrations: In 2010, Chauveau was the subject of two small exhibitions, and ‘Le Petit Monstre’ was published in an associated portfolio, Créatures hypothétiques [Hypothetical creatures]. Marc Chauveau, Léopold’s grandson, made two large donations to the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, in 2017 and 2019, and in 2020 over 100000 visitors attended the exhibition ‘Au Pays des Monstres’ [In the land of monsters]. Interviewed for the exhibition catalogue, Marc told curator Ophélie Ferlier-Bouat that he found it difficult giving the sculptures up, but wanted to give Léopold Chauveau the recognition he longed for and avoid his sculptures facing the same fate as in ‘Le Petit Monstre’. A selection of sculptures can now be viewed at the Orsay, and on permanent loan at Roubaix’s Musée de la Piscine. (Public domain author; bio © Nat Paterson)