The postman’s fairy palace
During a long-ago class, I learned about the Facteur Cheval, an 1800s postman who randomly built a fairy palace. Here’s an excerpt from my old art history textbook, The Shock of the New by Robert Hughes:
The other naif [besides Henri Rousseau] whom Surrealism especially admired was not a painter but a builder who, in the obscurity of his own country garden, created what was perhaps the most elaborate, beautiful, and mysterious “unofficial” work of art made by any nineteenth-century artist. He was Ferdinand Cheval, a postman or facteur in the village of Hauterives, about forty miles from Lyon. The Facteur Cheval (as he is usually called) had done nothing remarkable for forty-three years of his life. But one day in 1879, on his delivery round, he picked up a pebble. It was a piece of the local greyish-white molasse or tufa, gnarled and lumpy, about four inches long — his “stone of escape,” as he later called it. He put it in his pocket and, from then on, began first to collect more odd-looking stones, then tiles, oyster-shells, bits of glass, wire, iron, and other junk. Back in his garden, he began to lay foundations and build walls. He was, by his own account, bored of “walking forever in the same decor,” and so:
… to distract my thoughts, I constructed in my dreams a faëry palace, surpassing all imagination, everything the genius of a humble man could imagine (with grottoes, gardens, towers, castles, museums and sculptures), trying to bring to a new birth all the ancient architectures of primitive times; the whole thing so beautiful and picturesque that the images of it remained alive in my brain for ten years at least … but the distance from dream to reality is great; I had never touched a mason’s trowel … and I was totally ignorant of the rules of architecture.