Eugène Atget's Trees
Newly Discovered Photographs from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Photographs by Eugène Atget. Text by Sylvie Aubenas.
When EugÀne Atget was still alive, photographs and photographers were considered in a different light than they are today. At that time, no one would have dreamed of considering Atget an artist; he himself seems to have concurred, maintaining that the pictures he sold--at a price of 1 to 3 francs--were no more than documents. Libraries and museums constituted some of his most important clients; between 1900 and 1927, the Department of Prints and Photography of the BibliothÀque Nationale de France acquired thousands of his views of "old Paris." The manner of selecting these works remains obscure, but in 1995, after a laborious round of locating and classifying the historical photographs held by the department, a group of 39 hitherto unknown images by Atget were discovered. These studies of trees in the park at Saint-Cloud are essentially portraits of trees, some full-length, some details of roots or trunks--each a uniquely stark, high contrast abstraction of a genteel forest through the seasons. Found in their original envelope in the libraries archives, they had remained essentially untouched since they being purchased in July 1923. The envelope originally contained 111 photographs, bought for the sum total of 333 francs; the balance of the images featured more typical views of balustrades, statues, and terraces, and were published in a documentary volume on the park. The 39 images reproduced here for the first time were considered too abstract to stand as proper documentation. Without a framework for understanding such an image an artwork, they almost disappeared.