In 1879, postman Ferdinand Cheval tripped over an oddly shaped stone. The shape inspired him and he returned the next day to collect more stones. And he did not stop collecting until he had built himself a palace of the stones.
Palais Idéal (French for “Ideal Palace”) was built by Cheval over the course of thirty-three years. Each day he would collect stones on his regular mail route, bringing them back to add to his palace. He began by transporting the rocks in his pockets, but as he built, it was realized that this would take to much time. He switched to carrying a basket and later even a wheelbarrow! Even with these, the outer walls of the palace took twenty years of work to complete!
Due to limited time, Cheval would often work by light of an oil lamp at night. He wouldn’t stop until the palace was complete, even with neighbors calling him mad. But it wasn’t long until he gained notoriety in the art world. Max Ernst created a collage in Cheval’s name and Picasso would create a dozen drawings in honor of Cheval. Of course not everyone agreed that his work was beautiful. The French Ministry of Culture claimed that, “The whole thing is absolutely hideous. Appalling bunch of insanity that is clouded in a boorish brain.”
The palace itself was inspired by Egyptian, Hindu, and Christian themes and has an appearance like a sandcastle. Held together with cement, lime, and mortar, it still stands today and is just as beautiful as ever.