Palais IdéalFerdinand Cheval (1836- 1924)
About the Artist/Site
Ferdinand Cheval was born in the small French village of Charmes in 1836. His parents died before he was out of his teens; he married early, and by the mid-1860s he had become a postman, covering over 18 miles daily on his unvarying route.
He escaped his routine through daydreams: in them, he was the builder of a fantasy palace with gardens, grottoes, towers, and sculptures. As Cheval would later recall, his daydream crossed into reality when he stumbled upon a strangely shaped stone while making his rounds one day in April 1879. He decided that since “nature has furnished the sculptures, I shall be the architect and the mason.” He began to collect stones to build his Palais Idéal (“Ideal Place”) in the garden behind his house in Hauterives.
Cheval worked on his Palais for 34 years, embedding found stones in cement and reinforcing them with wire. Though pieced together over several decades and in a multitude of idioms, its grottos, waterfalls, subterranean chambers, and great towers nevertheless achieve great visual coherence.
Cheval’s discovery exemplifies the enormous power of the found object to motivate the artist: a chance encounter with a fragment of stone or a piece of broken glass is often the incentive to a life’s labor. The Palais is among the oldest surviving, most extensive, and most extraordinary of art environments worldwide; it is also a virtual encyclopedia of the forms and themes of visionary environments: architecture, sculpture, grottoes, and temples are employed to convey ideas about religion, patriotism, brotherhood, equality, individual freedom, and self-motivated labor.
Ridiculed in his day, Cheval’s Palais Idéal is now one of France’s National Historic Landmarks and is open to the public every day except Christmas and the first two weeks of January.
~Jo Farb Hernández
cement, stone, wire
SPACES Archives Holdings
The SPACES archive contains slides, negatives, prints, and postcards of the site.
Map & Site Information
Rue du Palais Idéal, 26390
Latitude/Longitude: 45.2566565 / 5.028469