NICE, France – For more than 60 years Les Chaises Bleues have been a special place to meet, chat and enjoy the views of the Mediterranean Sea from the Promenade des Anglais.
“Paris has the Eiffel Tower and Nice has the blue chairs,” said Sébastian Di Natale, a Niçois (a native of Nice) artist who sells paintings of the blue chairs on white canvases.
The blue chairs that once covered the promenade like polka dots were replaced about five years ago with blue chairs welded together in rows of 10-20 and bolted into the asphalt. Since the chairs are connected, you have no choice but to sit where the city has decided to place the chairs.
“I haven’t used the chairs since they were welded,” said Danielle Wintrebert, who is from northern France and has lived in Nice for over 40 years. “They look different.”
Last October the city of Nice placed a large sculpture of the iconic blue chair on the Promenade des Anglais to try and preserve locals’ and tourists’ memories of the Les Chaises Bleues.
The welded blue chairs have lost their freedom of movement, but this is not the first time the city of Nice has changed the iconic chairs.
In 1950 they were wooden white folding chairs that were scattered across the seven kilometers of the Promenade des Anglais. It was a place for family and friends to sit, relax and take in the scenery of southern France.
The chairs were being used as a spa for sick people, Renee Cremona said. “I remember a lot of old people sitting in them when I was little.” She said that the chairs were used as a place of relaxation for everyone, especially retirees who moved to Nice.
Wintrebert recalls a woman in 1970 sitting at a machine with a large handle that she cranked in a circular motion that spit out tickets to people waiting to pay their 10 cents to rent a chair. The Promenade des Anglais was a special gathering place where the elderly read newspapers, gossiped and shared war stories, while children played nearby, she said.
In the 1990s French architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte redesigned the blue chairs. His design added an arched arm rest rather than the traditional square arm rest.
These chairs can only be found in Nice; there is no where else in the world with the same chair, Wintrebert said. She helps run her husband’s art shop, where he creates miniature blue chairs among other objects encased in acrylic. It looks like a tiny blue chair frozen inside a clear Jell-O.
The chairs are painted blue in honor of Yves Klein’s influence on art in Nice. Klein is famous for his blue monochrome, which he created in 1957, based on the sea and sky at his native Nice.
Tessa Comiham, a third-time tourist to Nice, had no idea she was sitting in the symbol of Nice. She wanted to get away from the London weather, so she opted for a few days in the sunshine.
She sat in the connected blue chairs and enjoyed an afternoon in the sun staring at the sea and embracing the breeze from the water.
This is exactly how past tourists and locals enjoyed Les Chaises Bleues. The only difference between the past and the present is being able to choose where to sit on the Promenade des Anglais.
“I don’t mind sitting next to someone,” solo traveler Comiham said.
The chairs might have lost their original laissez-faire formations, but the interconnected blue chairs reinforce conversation, which might lead to a new tradition.