Built over thirty-five years by one man, The Palais idéal in the French town of Hauterives is an architectural wonder that is at the same time regarded by art critics as merely a folly and an example of so-called naive art.
Joseph-Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836 and suffered an unsettled early life including the death of both his parents before he was 18, the deaths of two wives and several children, and many poorly paid jobs. In 1867 he began work as a postman and the story of the Palais began.
As he walked on his rounds in the French countryside he began to construct in his mind what he called “a fairy palace of my dreams” in order to combat the boredom he had begun to feel. His vision became so vivid as to be almost real in his mind but then he lost confidence in his internal vision and found himself simply wandering through the real world that had none of the wonders of his Palais and had only brought him pain in the past.
His spirit was awakened by tripping over a stone in his path that seemed to him to have been sculpted by nature and he realised that if creativity is inherent in nature then it could be within himself too and at that moment he found what he had been missing. He realised that he could bring his dream castles into the real world and so he began to collect stones and build his Palais.
Once completed The Palais demonstrated his vision of creative reality, merging styles from across the world and across time. Cheval said that creativity is life and in finding creativity he began a new life and was enriched by its energy.
The Palais was, from its unveiling, intended to be seen and was open to the public so that they too could be inspired to create and live rather than simply, passively be entertained. Cheval hoped that his Palais would be part of a wider transformation of the world as people found their own creativity after seeing his work. The Fortean Times article I read ended by talking about this aspect and its author said it was offered as a pebble for use in building that global palace and as I’d now come into contact with the Palais so I was inspired to discover my own kind of creativity and share it. Today you don’t need stones and we can build a Palais online if we want, in some ways 21st Century Lunch is part of mine.