Postman cheval's ideal palace
Raw Art in Architecture
Postman Cheval’s story began when he stumbled upon a weird but beautiful stone whilst delivering mail in the French countryside. That day, he went back home with his « stumbling rock » and a unique idea: for the following 33 years of his life, Cheval would devote his free-time to the construction of his ideal palace.
Born in 1836, Ferdinand Cheval had already lost both of his parents by age 18. He had spent six years at school from 6 to 12 and started working as a baker, a farmer and, eventually, as a postman.
The 19th century was a time of deep change in France. It brought about the end of monarchy, followed by that of the Second Empire, after a disastrous war against Prussia, and the birth of the first stable French Republic. It was also a time of industrialization and of increased awareness of the rest of the world, in part due to the invention of photography.
In 1878, Postman Cheval was 43 years old and he walked approximately 30kms daily to deliver mail to nearby villages when he tripped over the Stumbling Rock. The illustrated newspapers and the postcards he delivered everyday influenced and inspired him in the construction of the monument he built after work, using the stones and pebbles he collected on his way back.
Although he never left France and never received artistic education, Ferdinand Cheval rediscovered on his own – a despite the quips of his neighbors – the techniques of masonry, stonecutting, mosaïc and sculpture. Consequently, one can follow the improvement of Cheval’s technique over the years along the facade of the Palace, as the fresco and statues get more detailed and artistic, allowing the viewer to plunge deep into this fascinating universe of the Postman.
In 1914, after his demand to be buried in the Palace when he dies was turned down by the authorities, Ferdinand Cheval, aged 78, set out to build yet one more monument, the Tomb of Silence and Eternal Rest, in Hauterives’s cemetery. The Tomb was completed in 1922, two years before the Postman died.
The uniqueness of the Palace started attracting the attention of the artistic crowd. André Breton, major figure of the Surrealist movement visited the Palace in 1920 and wrote a poem about Cheval, who would sadly not live to see his work get the full recognition it deserved:
Because the Postman had no artistic education, no creative norm but the memory of a dream and the Stumbling Rock, his Palace was labelled « Art Brut » (raw art) by the French painter Dubuffet. Raw art describes spontaneous artistic creations typically associated with outsiders and mentally alienated individuals, the Palace being the only architectural expression of the genre worldwide.
In 1969, André Malraux, then Minister of Culture, inscribed the Palace on the list of the French Historic Monuments, ensuring its conservation for the centuries to come.
how to visit
Hauterives is situated in the French countryside, an hour drive away from Lyon and Valence. You can access the palace by car or through public transportation by combining a train ride to a short bus trip.
You can check out itineraries and learn more about the Palace, in English, on its dedicated website.
Tickets come at the price of 7€ for adults and 5€ for children, with discounts for groups of more than 15 person.
Whilst you’re in Hauterives, dont forget to visit the Postman’s Tomb nearby to pay your respect and gaze the man’s last creation.
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