Blue Chairs of the Promenade
The Blue Chairs of the Promenade have become as iconic as the Promenade des Anglais they grace.
In 1950 with the increase of tourism to Nice, the Ville de Nice ordered 800 chairs from a certain Monsieur Ballanger who held the concession for renting out chairs on the Promenade des Anglais. These could be hired for a modest sum, for which, upon payment you would be handed a receipt with the words “droit de s’asseoir” (permission to sit).
When Ballanger received the order he arranged a meeting with Charles Tordo, who lived in the perched village of Tourrette-Levens. Tordo was renowned for his inventive and creative work and had a number of patents for folding furniture and had won the Concours Lépine ten times for his inventions.
Tordo set to designing the chairs which he decided to make from the wood of Beech and Plantain trees (obtained from the forests of Belvédère situated in the hills above Nice) and bolting the planks to a metal frame. As he was already working full-time during the day, with the help of his family, Tordo worked every evening and Sunday to meet Ballanger’s deadline.
Of course – the big question is why are these chairs blue? Is it be to be in harmony with the azure sea or pay homage to the workers, dressed in blue overalls, who repaired the Promenade des Anglais after the WW2? In fact, it is neither. It is simply because that particular shade of blue was in vogue when holidays along the Riviera (and particularly Nice and Cannes) became fashionable in the 1950s.
After delivery at his workshop Tordo would dry the wood, saw it up into planks and sandpaper them down. They were then bolted to pre-formed metal tubes. Once assembled the chairs were taken outside, painted blue and left to air dry. When ready they were taken down to Nice where Monsieur Ballanger distributed them along the Promenade des Anglais.
Over the years the chairs went through a number of changes – notably that they were no longer made out of wood – but the colour blue remained although the shade changed slightly. Upon the death of Monsieur Ballanger, the concession ended and the chairs were no longer made.
In the 1970s, the Ville de Nice commissioned another batch of chairs with a company based in the Haute Loire.
The present model, redesigned by the French designer and architect, Jean-Michel Wilmotte, were painted sky blue to complement the azure waters of the Baie des Anges, and placed on the Promenade in 1996. The Ville de Nice ordered 2,000 of these very elegant chairs, but due to “misappropriation” (ie. stolen as they could be easily picked up) only around 700 were left.
During clashes involving anti-capitalist demonstrators that erupted at the European Union summit in Nice in 2000, dozens of the blue chairs had to be withdrawn from service after they had been hurled at riot police and damaged.
In the summer of 2003 the Promenade des Anglais lost its traditional blue chairs as, according to the mayor’s office, problems with the company responsible for maintaining the chairs deprived the city of one of its most enduring symbols and the Wilmotte chairs were placed in storage. Their absence must have dismayed both regulars and tourists alike who so enjoyed sitting and looking out across the stunning Baie des Anges. When the chairs re-emerged they had been welded together in batches of 10…
Giant 2-Dimensional Blue Chair
On Saturday, 4th October 2014, a giant 2-dimensional blue chair was unveiled by Christian Estrosi, deputy-mayor of Nice and President of the Métropole Nice Côte d’Azur in the presence of the Niçoise artist, Sabine Géraudite. Entitled “Oeuvre de SAB inspirée de la Chaise bleue de la Promenade des Anglais” (translation: Work of SAB inspired by the Promenade des Anglais blue chair) it is an homage the artist wanted to make to these iconic chairs for many years.
This two-dimensional sculpture, set upon a cement block, measures 3 metres high and is situated opposite Avenue des Phocéens (located next to Jardin Albert 1er) and near to two other interesting sculptures: Neuf Lignes Obliques and Statue of Liberty.
Byline from the Editor
The French-born American artist, Arman (Armand Fernandez) gave homage to these “chairs” in 2004 at MAMAC.
The sculpture, a gift by the artist, entitled “Camin dei Ingles, 2004” adorns one of the four glass surfaces of MAMAC’s interior court and is a monumental 3D sculpture containing hundreds of blue chairs.
Lastly, you can discover a different form of art prizing these iconic blue chairs at Artnice located 2 rue Droite in Old Nice (located between Palais Lascaris and Place Saint-François).
In 2009 the Tourrette-Levens municipality paid homage to Charles Tordo, the creator of the ‘Chaises bleues de la promenade’ by naming a square after him.