Colbert’s photographic collection

See the collection online



This group of important photographs on glass plates for projection, which was discovered in the reserves of the lycée Colbert in the 10th arrondissement of Paris, dates from the late 19th and early 20th century. It contains 1816 glass plates, covering France, Europe, and certain extensions toward the rest of the world. This unusually rich and unique collection offers a French representation of the Belle Époque world.

A teaching aid from the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries

These glass plates were used as teaching aids during projections for students, but also for popular conferences that were organized for adult audiences. According to reports on popular education from 1895 to 1903 written for the Ministry of Public Instruction, popular conferences experienced great growth during the period. The Musée pédagogique, with help from the Société nationale des conférences populaires, subseq

uently put in place a loan system across France for the pictures and their explanatory notes. Different institutions and societies organized these conferences, notably the Société d’enseignement moderne, which offered evening classes for adults in numerous schools in Paris, in addition to conferences with projections. One of these schools was the lycée Colbert, which at the time was an école municipale supérieure.

A unique collection

Almost all of the glass plates discovered at the lycée Colbert are from the Radiguet & Massiot catalog, a photography and projection equipment company that had purchased the photographic collection of the Molteni company. Some photos were also marked with the name of two other photographers, Mazo and Fescourt.

An important number of pedagogical plates of this type—nearly 25,000—are conserved at the Musée national de l’éducation in Rouen, the successor of the Musée pédagogique. However, initial research confirmed the largely unique nature of the Colbert collection, which was gathered independently from that of the Musée pédagogique. The fact that the Colbert collection is a homogeneous group consisting exclusively of photographs is yet another element of its originality: among the plates conserved at the musée de l’Éducation, one can find, for instance, numerous reproductions of art works, along with original art and engravings on highly-varied subjects.


This collection is the subject of considerable development and promotional efforts led by the LabEx EHNE.

Firstly, under the oversight of their instructors and LabEx researchers, the students of the lycée Colbert organized a photography exhibition entitled “L’Europe en 1900,” which was inaugurated at the lycée Colbert in May 2014. This travelling exhibition was subsequently shown at the Maison de la recherche (université Paris-Sorbonne), la Maison de l’Europe in Nantes, as well as at the BU Lettres et sciences humaines and the bibliothèque Paul-Bois (CRHIA) in Nantes.

EHNE also took part in the “Lumineuses projections” exhibition organized at the Musée national de l’éducation in Rouen (April 1, 2016 – January 31, 2017), in which the Colbert collection’s glass plates were presented and projected.

Finally, the LabEx EHNE digitized the entire collection in order to provide it in open access. A database for hosting these digitized glass plates on this site is currently under construction.