Eugène Atget was born in 1857 near Bordeaux. After working as an actor in regional theaters, he settled in Paris in 1890, taking up photography in 1898. He photographed Paris, working on commissions from various city departments as well as the Carnavalet Museum. The Surrealists appreciated his work, most notably Man Ray, who arranged for Atget’s work to be published in La Revolutions Surrealiste in 1926. The photographer Berenice Abbott purchased Atget’s collection after his death in 1927.
Bib. Ref: The Work of Atget. Maria Morris Hambourg, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1981-1985. (4 vol.)
Atget’s photographs, all contact prints, were made as documents of Paris and its environs for artists, architects, and publishers. He organized his work into various series, most of which are represented in the Museum’s holdings. The collection spans Atget’s career, from 1898 to 1927, though its strength is pre World War I. The years 1901, 1907, and 1908 are especially well represented. Few of Atget’s photographs of tradesmen, prostitutes, and rag pickers exist in this collection.
The Museum’s Atget collection is organized into ten series. Eight of the series are the same that Atget used: Landscape Documents, Picturesque Paris I, II, III, Art of Old Paris, Environs, Topography of Old Paris, and Interiors. The other two series are a group of photographs that belonged to Man Ray (see below) and a portfolio of modern prints of Atget’s work printed from the original negatives by Berenice Abbott.
Nearly fifty of the Museum’s Atget photographs were purchased from the Surrealist painter and photographer, Man Ray. Atget’s photographs of store windows, mannequins, and window reflections are well represented in this group.
The collection came to the Museum in four purchases made between 1952 and 1956. One hundred photographs were bought from a Paris bookseller in 1952 and over 300 photographs purchased from another Parisian rare book dealer a year later. Forty-seven photographs were purchased from Man Ray, and a portfolio of 20 modern prints of Atget’s work from Berenice Abbott.
Del Zogg’s "Provenance of Atget Photographs in the Collection of George Eastman House", Image, Vol. 31, No. 1 gives a complete history of the acquisition of this collection.
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