Ferdinand Cheval (born 1836 in Charmes-sur-l’Herbasse, Drôme, France; died 19 August 1924) was a French postman who spent thirty-three years of his life building Le Palais Idéal (the “Ideal Palace”) in Hauterives. It is regarded as an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture.
Ferdinand Cheval lived in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, in the Drôme département of France. He had left school at the age of 13 to become a baker’s apprentice but eventually became a postman.
Cheval began the building in April 1879. He claimed that he had tripped on a stone and was inspired by its shape. He returned to the same spot the next day and started collecting stones.
For the next thirty-three years, Cheval picked up stones during his daily mail round and carried them home to build the Palais idéal. He spent the first twenty years building the outer walls. At first, he carried the stones in his pockets, then switched to a basket. Eventually, he used a wheelbarrow. He often worked at night, by the light of an oil lamp.
The Palais is a mix of different styles with inspirations from the Bible to Hindu mythology. Cheval bound the stones together with lime, mortar and cement. 33 years of struggle, 10.000 days, 93,000 hours.
Just prior to his death, Cheval began to receive some recognition from luminaries like André Breton and Pablo Picasso. His work is commemorated in an essay by Anaïs Nin. In 1932, the German artist Max Ernst created a collage titled The Postman Cheval. The work belongs to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and is on display there. In 1958, Ado Kyrou made Le Palais idéal, a short film on Cheval’s palace.
In 1969, André Malraux, the Minister of Culture, declared the Palais a cultural landmark and had it officially protected. It is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Cheval also wanted to be buried in his palace. However, since that is illegal in France, he proceeded to spend eight more years building a mausoleum for himself in the Hauterives cemetery. He died on August 19, 1924, around a year after he had finished building it, and is buried there.