Looking Back: Eugène Atget's Paris

This Pioneer Photographed Paris Like You've Never Seen it Before

By Google Arts & Culture

Versailles—Le Parc Versailles—Le Parc (c. 1901) by Eugène AtgetThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Eugène Atget was a struggling actor who in 1880 started wandering the streets of Paris, taking photographs of almost everything he came across, and selling cheap prints to artists to use as studies.

Saint-Cloud, Tree Roots, Saint Cloud Park (negative 1906; print 1920s) by Eugène AtgetThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Today he is seen as a photographic pioneer, whose images document the rapid modernisation of the city.

Rue de la Montagne Ste. Genevieve (1924) by Eugène AtgetThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Rue de la Montaigne Sainte Geneviève, 1924

It looks like a dreary day when Atget photographed this street corner, capturing the church of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont while looking towards the Panthéon.

A little brighter today, the Panthéon is still one of the greatest sights of the city and visited by many.

[Place Saint-Médard] (1898–1900) by Eugène AtgetThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Place Saint-Médard, 1898-1900

Even around the turn of the century, the streets were covered with adverts. This bustling square on the infamous left bank of the Seine is filled with housewives and servants carrying their shopping.

The flying buttress of Eglise Saint-Métard can be seen on the right, and shop still advertise their wares, but the restaurant has long since gone.

Cour, Rue De Valence (1956) by Eugène AtgetLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Cour, rue de Valence 7, 1922

This courtyard at 7, Rue de Valance shows a coming together of the old city and new, where modern motorbikes and cars sit beneath the kinds of ramshackle buildings that many Parisians still lived in.

Cars are all-too common sights on the streets today, but the hovels and shanties of old Paris have been torn down. The same courtyard is now filled with plants and windowboxes.

Men's Fashions (1956) by Eugène AtgetLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Magasin, avenue des Gobelins, 1925

Not all of Atget's photographs were labelled. We know this photograph was taken on Rue de Gobelins, but a suit shop wouldn't be out of place in 1920s Paris, so where exactly was it?

Computer, enhance

Here's a clue. If we look at the reflection in the window, we can see this distinctive, grand-looking building…

…which happens to be the former Gobelins textile factory - a convenient location for a suit shop - today, a bank occupies the former shop.

Ancienne Barrière du Trône (Tollbooth Pavilion and Column) (1903–1904) by Eugène AtgetThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Barrière du Trône, 1903

The Barrière du Trône was one of the ancient gates into the city of Paris. In 1787 a new customs house was built to tax farmers visiting the city's markets. At the same time they constructed two grand neoclassical columns.

Today. the Barrière du Trône is well within the city limits, but has remained a busy thoroughfare, and thankfully they won't be charging us to visit.

Colonnade Grove (1900/1930) by Eugène AtgetPalace of Versailles

The Colonnade Grove, 1900/1930

Atget visited many of the parks and beauty spots that Parisians enjoyed on their days off. This is found in the gardens of Versaille, the former royal palace found just outside of the city.

While you're here, why not take a tour of the gardens? I'll see you back in Paris.

Rue Cardinale (1922) by Eugène AtgetThe J. Paul Getty Museum

Rue Cardinale, 1922

Not all of Atget's photographs depict monuments or well-known places, sometimes he simply captured the day to day realities of the city.

The building to the left has been demolished, and the restaurant has changed names, but the scene remains just as recognisable, and just as quotidian.

Coin, Boulevard de la Chapelle et Rue Fleury 76, 18e, Paris from the series Picturesque Paris Coin, Boulevard de la Chapelle et Rue Fleury 76, 18e, Paris from the series Picturesque Paris (1921) by Eugčne AtgetThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Coin, boulevard de la Chapelle et rue Fleury 76, 18e, 1921

Wandering the streets of Paris, Atget met many of the city's sex workers, some of which he photographed. Here, two women stand on the corner of Rue Fleury and the Boulevard de la Chapelle…

…while a third peeps out from a doorway.

This, remarkably, is the same location. The buildings are gone, but the street remains.

Eclipse, 1911 (1911, printed 1956) by Eugène AtgetLos Angeles County Museum of Art

Eclipse, 1912

A group of people stand at the Place de la Bastille to watch the solar eclipse of April 17, 1912, holding cardboard and hands up to protect their eyes. Atget's camera takes a moment to gaze on the mesmerised crowd.

Don't look now…

The scene isn't quite as picturesque today. But Atget's photographs show that the city is constantly changing, and hasn't always been as beautiful as we imagine it to be. Who knows what Paris will look like in another century?

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Google apps