Taking over 10,000 clicks of the camera between the end of French Second Empire and the 1930s, Jean Gilletta captured many of the most iconic sights and moments of the region during this period. He is widely accredited with taking the Côte d’Azur to global renown through his prodigious collection of photographs.
Born to a family in Levens, Jean Gilletta (1856-1933) went on to become the most well-known photographer of south-eastern France and also the founder of one of the country’s oldest publishing houses that is still active today: Editions Gilletta. A curious man, he travelled extensively throughout the south of France – often by foot or by tricycle – in the quest for landscapes, architecture and subjects to shoot during his 60-year photographic career.
The locations and monuments seen in his work are familiar yet also veiled by the mists of a century or so of change. The Carré d’Or of Monaco, for one, is much the same in 1910 as it is today. Elegantly dressed men and women repose on the terraces of the Café de Paris and the Casino de Monte-Carlo is identical, but the sports cars and snap-happy tourists are missing – we can only wonder what Gilletta would have thought of the latter. The French navy squadron fills the Villefranche bay in a shot from the same period, replacing the super yachts and cruise liners we’d expect see. In another historic image, the famous La Réserve and its ship edifice near the Port of Nice is immortalised in 1900 (and on our cover), a time when the restaurant served guests fish and shellfish caught in the waters below.
In total, 230 treasured images await your discovery at the Musée Masséna, among them shots by Gilletta’s nephew Louis, who took over the business as his uncle settled into something of a retirement. One such photograph is from 1935, two years after Gilletta’s death at Villa Alice-Jeanne in Nice, and is a wondrous visual memory of beach fashion of the age. There are also several postcard images – a niche Gilletta commercialised and took to the masses from his boutique on Avenue de la Gare (now Jean-Médecin) –such as the panoramic view of Nice’s Jardin Albert Ier and the Colline du Château from 1920.
To discover but a small selection of the images included in the exhibition, please visit our Facebook page (Riviera Insider) and head to our albums: Jean Gilletta: a retrospective.
Jean Gilletta et la Côte d’Azur Paysages et Reportages 1870-1930
Until 5th March at the Villa Masséna, Nice
Open every day from 11am to 6pm (except Tuesday)