Eugène Atget Biography

Eugène Atget was a French photographer best known for his architectural photography. The artist captured images of the changing Parisian footprint during the end of the 19th century. Atget was born on the 12th of February, 1857 in Libourne, a commune in the Gironde department in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, near Bordeaux in Southwest France.

An orphan by the age of five, the young Eugène Atget was raised by his grandparents. During his youth, the artist worked as a sailor. He would later experiment in acting and painting, studying for a period of time at the conservatory for dramatic arts in Paris and working briefly as an actor in the city, before settling on his preferred medium – photography.

Atget’s photographic output took off in the 1880s when the artist started producing photographic studies for use by architects, designers, and painters. At this time the young photographer would produce images of architectural details around the city’s streets and gardens.  

In the 1890s Eugène Atget started photographing the city in great detail and developing his own unique photographic style. The artist is perhaps best known for his simple style and beautiful dawn photographs which portray wide-open views of Paris in soft, diffuse lighting. Most importantly, Atget's photographs are renowned for chronicling Paris’ changing architectural landscape during this period of rapid modernization in the city and serve as a visual history of the city. 

Eugène Atget’s photographs have served as inspiration for generations of artists and photographers after him and his work sits firmly in the canon, acting as a benchmark upon which contemporary photographic outputs continue to measure themselves against to this day. His work has drawn admiration from notable figures including Henri Matisse, and Pablo Picasso, and Man Ray (who used one of Atget’s photographs on the cover of his magazine la Révolution surréaliste). American photographer, Bernice Abbott, was the first person to exhibit Eugène Atget's photographs outside of France, and went on to preserve Atget’s prints and negatives, such was her admiration.

Eugène Atget died in Paris on the 4th of August 1927 but his legacy continues, memorialized in public collections around the world. Atget’s photographs are held in New York at the Museum of Modern Art, and the International Center of Photography. His works have also appeared in collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum in LA, The Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, Stiftung Kultur in Cologne, and the Fotostiftung Schweiz in Switzerland. Eugene Atget’s photographs have also been set to print in multiple publications, most recently Situational Aesthetics (2008), published by Leuven University Press.