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Eugène Atget (French, 1857 - 1927)
Gelatin silver chloride printing-out paper print
17.9 × 22.9 cm (7 1/16 × 9 in.)
Eugène Atget inscribed the back of this print Pont Neuf, identifying the venerable "new bridge" (completed in 1607) that is dimly visible in the background. More precisely descriptive of at least the foreground subject of the photograph, he wrote on another print les Quais, meaning the wharves along the Seine. On the second he also noted that the image was made in winter, which might be guessed by the low-lying fog that obscures the buildings across the river and swathes the distant bridge in a watery cloak. This mist was enhanced by a flaw in the processing of the present print, which created a cloudy band along the right margin.
Earlier in Atget's career he had systematically documented the embankments and quays along this section of the river as well as their attendant commerce, but here his interest lies more in mood. This shift from documentation to study of atmosphere reflects the change in his sensibility after World War I, a move from the prosaic to the poetic.
As if in a detective novel or espionage film, the two blurred figures standing on the ramp that leads down onto the quay at the left seem to have staked out the barges below for surveillance. The gentle curves of the boats are echoed in the arc of the stonework to which they are tied. The feathery tree sharply contrasts with the spiky mast of the vessel nearest the dock. Except for the luminous glow in the sky and the white trim on the barges, the photograph is uncharacteristically dark, mysterious, and faintly ominous. Paris in winter is eerily evoked.
Adapted from Eugène Atget, In Focus: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum by Gordon Baldwin (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2000), 72. ©2000, J. Paul Getty Trust.
Abbott, Berenice. The World of Atget (New York: Horizon Press, 1964), pl. 8.
Szarkowski, John and Maria Morris Hambourg. The Work of Atget. 4 vols. (New York: Museum of Modern Art; Boston: Distributed by New York Graphic Society, 1981-1985) vol. 2, fig. 4.
Baldwin, Gordon. In Focus: Eugène Atget: Photographs from the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2000), pl. 33.