L'OIEL DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE: The Little-Known Horses of Eugène Atget
NOVEMBER 10, 2017
This past Sunday, November 12, at Paris Photo, the Ader Nordmann auction house in Paris organized an auction of rare photographs by Eugène Atget dealing with a somewhat ignored subject: horses.
Before his work on Parisian streets and monuments, for which we recognize him as the father of modern photography, Eugène Atget made rural, agricultural, and animal images in the regions of Somme and Limousin. Though his work is substantial, sources concerning the first part of his life are relatively scarce.
He was born in Libourne, a dynamic Aquitainian port, on February 12, 1857. After a short career in the navy, then as an actor without great success, he taught himself photography around 1888 before moving to Paris in 1890.
He produced images for painting that he methodically numbered by series. The organization of his prints is summarized in historian Maria Morris Hambourg’s reference table.
The seventeen film prints presented on November 12, 2017 belong to the category “Work Animal”, numbered 208 to 280 and dating from 1898-1900. Dedicated to the horse in all its aspects of work, draft, military, or mule, an essentially never-seen-before series. We only know one image, as well as a variant, conserved in the public French or foreign collections.
Was this a commission or a project of his own initiative? Far from the trendy pictorialist intentions of the time, Eugène Atget claimed the status of a documentation photographer, and we find this type of observation and his aesthetic in his horse studies. He described his work like this in a commercial announcement in 1892: “Landscapes, animals, flowers, monuments, documents, foregrounds for artists, painting reproductions, trips. Collection not being in the trade.”