Eugène Atget - Photographs New York Wednesday, October 14, 2020 | Phillips
  • Provenance

    Collection of Berenice Abbott, Paris
    Collection of Roger Vailland, Paris
    Collection of Pierre-Marc Richard, Paris
    Beaussant & Lefèvre, Paris, Photos du XIXème Siecle: Collection Pierre-Marc Richard, 8 June 2011, lot 168

  • Literature

    Szarkowski and Hambourg, The Work of Atget, Vol IV, Modern Times, cover, and p. 152, pl. 116
    Barberie, Looking at Atget, p. 67
    Trottenberg, ed., A Vision Of Paris: The Photographs of Eugéne Atget, The Words of Marcel Proust, p. 26
    Gautrand, ed., Eugène Atget: Paris, p. 637
    Robert Adams, Why People Photograph, pl. XXVII

  • Catalogue Essay

    As evidenced by the stamp on the verso, this print comes originally from the collection of photographer Berenice Abbott. Abbott, who lived and worked in Paris in the 1920s before beginning her signature series of photographs of New York City, befriended Eugène Atget in his final years, occasionally acquiring prints from him. After Atget’s death, Abbott saved Atget’s work from almost certain destruction by purchasing his archive of prints and negatives. It was through Abbott’s insistence that Atget’s work was shown in the Premiere Salon Indépendent de la Photographie in 1928, placing his photographs in the context of such contemporary photographers as Man Ray, Paul Outerbridge, André Kertész, and Abbott herself. Abbott believed deeply in the value of Atget’s photographs and it is largely through her efforts that his work was preserved and that he has entered the canon of great photographers. Fête du Trône has become one of the most enduring images in his vast oeuvre.

    Abbott applied the same collection stamp on the verso of this print, with her Paris address, to other photographs she acquired in Atget’s collection, including eight that are in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Upon her return to New York in January 1929, it was replaced by a succession of different stamps. It is unknown whether the gelatin chloride print offered here was acquired by Abbott from Atget directly, or in the purchase of his archive, or is possibly one she made herself while in Paris.

    This photograph was subsequently in the collection of Roger Vailland, a Parisian writer loosely associated with the Surrealist movement who shared that group’s fascination with Atget’s photographs. Vailland had a sophisticated understanding of Atget’s importance. As early as 1928, in a piece published in Paris-Midi, Vailland wrote, ‘Atget, who was completely outside contemporary movements, nevertheless had a very keen and almost prophetic sense of the art that was to come. The wax mannequins almost alive in a display case where the whole street is reflected, a woman standing on a doorstep, a deserted courtyard where a statue lives, move us as much photographed by Atget as a canvas by de Chirico.’

    Vailland’s likening of Atget’s work to that of the painter Giorgio di Chirico is of-a-piece with the adoption of the photographer’s work by the Surrealists. Fête du Trône, with its mysterious juxtaposition of discordantly-sized items – two photographs of Armand the Giant, one in which he poses with the smallest man in the world, alongside large and miniature chairs and shoes – encapsulates Atget’s appeal to the Surrealists, who found in his work evidence of the ineffable strangeness of daily life. In 1926, through Man Ray, Atget’s neighbor and friend, Atget’s photographs were published in La Révolution Surréaliste, the movement’s leading journal. It is one of the ironies of photographic history that Atget, whose work was firmly rooted in the succinct documentation of the visible world, would be embraced and promoted by the dream-obsessed Surrealists.

    It is a testament to Atget’s sophisticated vision that Fête du Trône succeeds simultaneously as a factual document and a Surrealist still life. While Abbot’s appreciation for Atget’s work was based upon the modern objectivity of his images, this does not negate the fact that in many cases, and certainly in Fête du Trône, Atget has captured the uncanny and mysterious nature of the visible world.


Fête du Trône

Gelatin chloride print, printed 1920s, possibly by Berenice Abbott.
6 3/4 x 8 7/8 in. (17.1 x 22.5 cm)
Numbered in the negative; ‘Photo E. Atget, Collection of Bérénice Abbott, 18 rue Servandoni, Paris 6e, Littrè 74 - 6’ stamp on the verso.

$20,000 - 30,000 

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New York Auction 14 October 2020