Cheval's Ideal Palace
From humble origins, great works of art often flourish. With Ferdinand Cheval’s Ideal Palace in Hauterives, there can be few stories to rival the tale of this project’s development into a masterpiece of Surrealist art. Today, the palace is one of the most intriguing sights in the Rhône-Alpes region, and attracts thousands of tourists and Outsider Art aficionados each year.
The origins of the Ideal Palace date from April 1879, when rural postman Ferdinand Cheval stumbled – quite literally – over an unusual stone during his daily rounds. The discovery of the stone was enough to awaken the mailman’s dream of constructing a majestic palace representing wildlife and mythological creatures. In the words of Cheval himself, “Since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture,” and so the foundations of the palace were laid.
Over the course of the next 33 years, Cheval would collect stones along his route, returning to Hauterives with pocketfuls, baskets filled to the brim, and eventually a wheelbarrow packed with material for use in the construction. And, due his continued employment as a postman, Cheval could be found working late into the night by candle light, first spending a remarkable 20 years developing the outer walls before setting to work on crafting the ornate interiors. Through hard work and endeavour, realising his dream of the palace enabled Cheval to create a fairytale scene in reality, with his hopes of amazing visitors fulfilled.
Such was the magnitude of Cheval’s work, the Ideal Palace has been held in high reverence by a number of artistic movements over the intervening years. Surrealists such as Andre Breton have declared Cheval the precursor to Surrealist architecture, while Max Ernst would go on to display a tribute to Cheval at the Guggenheim Foundation in Venice. Cheval would also be praised as a pioneer of naïve art, inspiring later generations, and the building received the honour of a Historical Monument classification by Andre Malraux, French Minister for Cultural Affairs, in 1969.
Ferdinand Cheval’s Ideal Palace represents what an achievement can be made through dedication, artistic integrity and hard work, and remains one of the most fascinating masterpieces in the Rhône-Alpes region. With its striking and beautiful appearance, as well as its unique artistic value, the Ideal Palace will continue to inspire for years to come, while regular exhibitions in the region pay homage to one of France’s most intriguing craftsmen.