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21.8.03

Eugène Atget Photographs for Sale

Eugène Atget, Store Window, avenue des Gobelins, 1925Michel Guerrin has published an interview with the director of the photography department at MoMA, Peter Galassi (La rupture esthétique d'Eugène Atget, August 21, in Le Monde), about the progress of the museum's sale of 1,000 photographs (doubles from their collection of 6,000) by Eugène Atget (1857-1927). (See also Lindsay Pollock's presale report The Atget Opportunity, in Artnet on April 12, 2002, and the deaccessioned photographs themselves, being sold by dealer David Tunick.) Most of these photographs, at an estimated value of $20 million, are being purchased by American collectors and museums (only one European buyer so far, an unnamed German museum). Atget's fascination with the city of Paris and tendency to capture unusual or even surreal views of that familiar city have made me a big fan. If I had a luxury purchase to make or a dream gift to receive, a real Atget photograph (going for between $3,000 and $150,000, according to the interview) would be at the top of my list. I had better act quickly, however, since half of them have already been sold. One of the almost Pop Art views of store windows, perhaps (see photo at left).

Eugène Atget, Bibliothèque nationale de France, 1902Most likely, I would try to acquire the 1902 view of the windows of the Bibliothèque nationale (see photo at right), an image steeped in memory for me. This was taken in what is now the courtyard of the readers' entrance to the old library, off the Rue de Richelieu and across from the Square Louvois (see this picture of the entrance from across the park). I have passed through there hundreds of times, on the way to look at medieval manuscripts in the Salle des Manuscrits, the windows of which you can see at the very top of the image on the second floor. (Maybe if I finally win the Powerball this Saturday...)

You can see quite a few of Atget's photographs online, especially in the Collection Eugène Atget (at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France), at the George Eastman House, at the International Center of Photography, in Atget in Paris (at the Getty), and Masters of Photography (ludicrously choked with pop-up ads). Right now, there is an exhibit (La photographie au tournant du siècle du Pictorialisme à Eugène Atget) at the Musée d'Orsay, also reviewed by Michel Guerrin in Le Monde (Au Musée d'Orsay, parmi les amateurs de paysages et de portraits, August 21) and which I will go see when I am in Paris in October. Finally, check out more recent photographs by Gerald Panter (Atget's Paris) paired with Atget's views of the same sites.

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