The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace

Le Facteur Cheval-Max Ernst 1932
Max Ernst’s 1932 collage Le Facteur Cheval is a homage to the extraordinary creator of the Ideal Palace, that marvellous folly that the Surrealists so loved: Ferdinand Cheval.

Born in 1836 in the Drome departement of France, approximately 30 miles south of Lyon, Ferdinand Cheval left school at 13 with an apprenticeship to a baker, however he eventually became a postman. One day in 1879 while doing his 18 mile round in the small village of Hauterives where he lived, Cheval in his haste stumbled over a stone. Stopping to examine the cause of his trip, Cheval was stuck by the strange shape and beauty of the stone and it reminded him of a dream that he had fifteen years previously and which he had almost forgotten. In the dream, which he found hard to express in words, he had built a palace or castle or caves. He had told nobody about this dream for fear of ridicule, it felt ridiculous to himself. However the stone had brought back the dream and he put it into his pocket to examine at leisure.

The next day he returned to where he found the stone and to his delight he found many more stones even stranger and more beautiful than the cause of his near fall. Cheval said that the stones “represents a sculpture so strange that it is impossible for man to imitate, it represents any kind of animal, any kind of caricature. I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.”

For the next thirty-three years Cheval built his Ideal Palace, pushing a wheelbarrow on his postal rounds to carry all the stones he collected. He frequently worked late into the night with the aid of a oil lamp, binding the stones together with lime, mortar and cement. The images of exotic locales that he saw on the postcards and illustrated magazines he delivered on his route inspired his imagination and found expression in the eclectic mix of architecture of the Ideal Palace, where Hindu Temple, Arabic Mosque and Swiss Chalet (among others) styles somehow form a unified whole.

Cheval, as he feared, was scorned by the local community, and his visionary Ideal Palace was derided as the work of a madman. This changed however when the project was featured in national newspapers and tourists started visiting. In 1905 a tourist register was opened. Cheval declared the Ideal Palace finished in 1912 and inscribed on the building ,”The work of one man.” He also stated his desire to be buried underneath the Ideal Palace.

Although Cheval comes across as a charming eccentric he was obviously a man of dogged determination, so when he learnt that French law strictly forbade his burial upon the grounds of the Ideal Palace, he set about building his own mausoleum, at the age of eighty. He spent the next seven years building another fantastical and beautiful structure. One year  after its  completion Ferdinand Cheval died and was buried in the mausoleum that he had constructed.

As well as the Surrealists, who would often embark on pilgrimage to a site which they considered to be a monument to naive art and the transformative powers of the imagination, the Ideal Palace was much admired by Picasso and Anais Nin, who published an essay on Cheval. In 1969 the Minister of Culture, the novelist Andre Malraux declared the Ideal Palace a cultural landmark and later in 1986 the Facteur Cheval was featured on his own postage stamp: a touching and luminous irony.

Today the Palais Ideal Du Facteur Cheval Monument Historique receives 120,000 visitors yearly and is considered one of the most outstanding examples of Art Brut/outsider art in the world.

Ideal Palace
Ideal Palace
Ideal Palace
Ideal Palace

Ideal Tomb
Ideal Tomb

56 thoughts on “The Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace

  1. Damn. I enjoyed this post VERY much. I wish the world were filled to brimming with people like Cheval. What a testament to the strength of the human spirit.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a lovely beautiful story and I enjoyed writing it. Indeed a testament to the finer aspects of the human spirit and anyone who can maintain cynicism in the face of such endeavour, well that is there decision. but I don’t want anything to do with them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good we can be friends again. I have taken an interest in art brut lately… I posted about earlier it might interest you I will send you a link (if you haven’t seen it already that is.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes you can see why the Surrealists love it, it is very dream like. I like how he says in the dream he built a palace or castle or caves, it looks like all three so it has the mixed up fantastical appearance of something found in a dream. I enjoyed writing this, it is like a fable or fairy tale but it actually happened.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I heard about this one before and I find the story really moving. Of course your post unveils many more details I never got behold of. Wonderful post, Mr Cake… Stones, buildings and surrealism, what more could one ask for.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A fabulous post Mr. Cake! So many of my favourite things! Yesterday I was constructing a quirky garden enclosure just up the hill opposite my house to stave off the critters and I decided I must collect more bits to have fun making this beautiful and quirky. Then I picked up an interesting piece of red jasper rock and closely observed it and it brought to mind reading of the accounts of native American women shamans relating to the author Lynn v. Andrews how they knew women who were specifically rock shamanesses and would communicate with rocks. I mused that this was probably a dying skill, maybe not.
    I love collage and that is a beautiful piece by Max Ernst, again the birds.
    I’m also interested in organic construction and enjoy experimenting with it around here.
    Who placed the rock for the horse to stumble upon and who sent him the dream?
    I envy those who are able to marry passion, imagination and practicality to create something magnificent.
    One of my very favourite books on the realisation of a surreal dream is “The story of San Michele” by Axel Munthe, again featuring repair and construction work of his dream palace.
    Wishing you a fabulous 2018 Mr. Cake and all the cake you can eat!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Heron for this lovely detailed comment. I am very fond of this post as it probably one of my best. I will look up that story and glad you enjoyed this post which is a wonderful story. Wishing you also a fabulous New Year with lots and lots of cake.


  4. Very interesting post. I had a laugh at the 13 yr-old going off to be a baker’s apprentice. Certainly were different times. Also, I’m enjoying having your printed book in my hands. Happy New Year, and congrats. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am savoring it on my nightstand. I hope it’s the beginning of more good things for you. And if I can put my ducks in a row, I’d like to add a book of my own to the stack.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Ha ha, well there’s a shortage of that in today’s world. So where I can make a modest difference I do. Which is not to say the recognition of your posts is not deserving even if I were a curmudgeon.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. It was a kind of joke 🙂 but thanks.
        But it seems he was an unknowing genius. He did not have an arts degree and write an artistic statement explaining his project. He just did it and it’s amazing.
        You don’t say if he was married. What did Mrs Cheval say day to day I wonder? There’s a poem or short story there.


      2. I was joking as well, though it is always hard to tell with me. I am very taken with art brut, the definition of which is no formal artistic training, just people who are compelled to create. Frequently obsessive the works often possess a power that goes beyond aesthetic concerns. Genius he was, I am not sure if he was married, if he was his wife would certainly have cause for complaint. I agree about the short story, I really enjoyed writing this piece, The Postman Cheval is a magical and luminous figure.

        Liked by 1 person

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