First published: Winter 2007
The rapid spread of photography from the late nineteenth century onwards meant that for the first time ordinary people could commission a visual record of themselves and their family in the same way as only the wealthy had been able to do before. The combination of this with the introduction of universal postal services and widespread railway travel resulted in photographs of every day scenes, popular figures, important events and local curiosities being printed and widely distributed as picture postcards.
These postcards were produced in their millions but were some of the the earliest records of what are now termed as Outsider Art or Visionary Environments. Many of them have survived over the years and portray a variety of long lost creations with others that still exist to this day.
Palais Idéal (Ideal Palace) (Hauterives, Drôme, France)
Without doubt one of the world's great environments, the Palais Idéal (Ideal Palace) is the creation of Ferdinand Cheval, a country postman who, while making his rounds south of Lyon, France one day in 1879, came across a 'wondrous' stone, the discovery of which prompted him to fulfil a dream. He began to collect more stones as he walked the lanes of the area, and over the next 34 years he worked tirelessly to incorporate them into a 'fairy-like palace beyond imagination that all the genius of a humble man could conceive with grottoes, towers, gardens, castles, museums and sculptures trying to bring back to life all the ancient architectures and primeval times' from the Bible to Hindu mythology. Thanks to photographer Louis Charvat, who produced postcards from 1902 for sale near the Palais, Cheval can be viewed at work. In 1969 André Malraux, Minister of Culture, declared the Palace a cultural landmark, and today it is open to the public.
Cynthia Elyce Rubin
Pontypool Park Grotto (Wales, UK)
This shell-covered grotto was originally a simple hunting lodge which was converted in the 18th century by a well-known local family. Wild and mysterious, it was constructed from natural materials found in the area. Three tree-trunks were used as columns at the entrance, and rough rocks were incorporated in the building. The floor is decorated and encrusted with animal bones and teeth which form a kind of mosaic. The grotto itself was restored in the early 1990s, and the rustic chairs, which date from the beginning of the 19th century, in 1997.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #61