• Sale 2407

    Selections from the Baio Collection of Photography

    15 April 2010, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 171

    EUGÈNE ATGET (1857-1927)

    Joueur d'Orgue, c. 1898-1899

    Price Realised  

    EUGÈNE ATGET (1857-1927)
    Joueur d'Orgue, c. 1898-1899
    gelatin silver chloride print
    titled, numbered '360' annotated '17 bis' in pencil and credit stamp (on the verso)
    8¾ x 6 7/8in. (22.8 x 18cm.)


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    'When this photograph of a Parisian organ grinder was made, life on the street was a common form of entertainment. Cinema was a brand new art and television was not yet imagined. Between 1898 and 1901, early in his career as a photographer, Eugène Atget made a series of portraits of the denizens of the rue. This picture belongs to a series of petits métiers, a common pictorial tradition since at least the seventeenth century. Always conscious of a world that was about to disappear, Atget published about eighty of his portraits of street tradespeople as postcards in 1905.

    Except for this series, Atget's photographs are usually devoid of people. We find quite the opposite in Joueur d'orgue, one of Atget's few records of a person smiling. The tiny woman on the right simply radiates life, all the more so in contrast to her dour companion. This image of people isolated against a wall is an atypical work by Atget, yet it is emblematic of all his work. At once direct, simple, and straightforward, it contains great drama and mystery provided by these wonderful characters.' (Alexander, 'Joueur d'orgue' in Heartney, ed., A Capital Collection: Masterworks from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Third Millenium Publishing, 2002, p. 191)

    The present lot was among a group of thirteen Atget photographs from the estate of the Dadaist poet and writer, Tristan Tzara that were sold in these rooms in 1999. Presumably, Tzara bought the prints from Atget in the early 1920s when he lived at the Hôtel Istria, a few doors away from Atget's rue Campagne-Première apartment. This remarkably well-preserved print was made by Atget on gelatin silver chloride paper, also known as printing-out paper. This paper allowed for a much longer and richer tonal scale than standard developing-out papers. The American photographer, Berenice Abbott, responsible for preserving and promoting Atget's work, posthumously made from his negatives a number of gelatin silver developing-out paper prints that suffer from an inability to render detail, in both the deepest shadows and the brightest highlights.

    Prints of this image made by Atget are very rare. As of this writing, we know of only two prints in French collections, the Musée Carnavalet and the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, both lamentably in mediocre condition. The Museum of Modern Art, has only a modern albumen print by the Chicago Albumen Works made in 1984 from the original negative. They used that print in their authoritative series of exhibitions and books on Atget. We know of only three other Atget-made prints. One is in the Gilman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It originally came from the collection of the painter Utrillo, a regular client of Atget. Another print is in the Julien Levy Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago. And there is a matte albumen print in a private collection. The combination of excellent condition and superb provenance make the present lot an extraordinary object.

    Provenance

    The Estate of Tristan Tzara;
    Christie's, New York, April 29, 1999, lot 163


    Pre-Lot Text

    To Atget the visible world became the stage; man himself and the
    effects of man, the great drama. Men and women in the Paris streets
    became the cast of characters. Berenice Abbott


    Literature

    Atget: Photographe de Paris, E. Weyhe, 1930, pl. 20; Abbott, Eugène Atget, S.N.K.L.U., 1963, pl. 70 and front cover; Trottenberg, ed., A Vision of Paris, The MacMillan Co., 1963, p. 116; Abbott, The World of Atget, Horizon Press, 1964, pl. 49; Borcoman, Eugène Atget 1857-1927, National Gallery of Canada, 1984, cat. no. 4, p. 108; Szarkowski and Hambourg, The Work of Atget, Vol. IV: Modern Times, The Museum of Modern Art, 1985, pl. 28, p. 64; Nesbit, Atget's Seven Albums, Yale University Press, 1992, pl. 91, p. 112; Le Gall, Atget, Paris pittoresque, Hazan, 1998, p. 91; Szarkowski, Atget, The Museum of Modern Art Callaway, 2000, pl. 12, p. 45; Badger, Eugène Atget 55, Phaidon, 2001, p. 21; Alexander, 'Joueur d'orgue,' in Heartney, ed., A Capital Collection: Masterworks from the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Third Millenium Publishing, 2002, p. 191