An important portfolio of images by Eugène Atget, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern photography, was thought to have been lost — until it was rediscovered ‘almost by chance’ among the archives of the artist André Derain
When the descendants of André Derain found a portfolio, hidden in the artist’s former Paris home, they had little idea of how important their discovery would turn out to be. Inside were works by Eugène Atget, one of the ‘founding fathers’ of modern photography, whose work had a profound influence on Derain’s own compositions.
Born in 1857, Atget first began taking photographs in 1890, documenting the architecture of Paris’s streets, from door handles to monuments and shop windows. Specialist Elodie Morel explains, ‘He wanted to make an inventory of the city, which could then be used by artists in their paintings.’ Atget’s work soon caught the eye of some of the great names in art history, including Man Ray and Georges Braque, who became collectors of his work.
In this video Geneviève Taillade, André Derain’s niece, describes the moment she discovered Atget’s photographs. ‘I thought they were beautiful,’ she says, ‘but didn’t realise they had been taken by such a prestigious artist.’ Certain images in the portfolio reveal complicity between Derain and Atget, who are believed to have been friends: a photograph of the Pont Neuf (above), re-emerges at the same angle in an engraving by Derain.
‘What I love about my work is that opportunity to find links with the past — to go back in time to a bygone era, and discover a story,’ says Morel. In establishing the affinity between these two great artists, this story is also ‘a discovery for the history of photography’, she adds. ‘This collection has been referenced many times but had never seen the light of day — until now.’