The collective works of Eugène Atget are a rare gift to the world that show what Paris looked like in the late 1800s to early 1900s. Atget was the ultimate flâneur, which allowed him to take thousands of photographs of Paris ranging from shop windows to street life throughout the city. Atget’s humanity and style can particularly be seen in his photographs of the gardens of Paris, including those of the Tuileries, Versailles, Sceaux, and St. Cloud.
Here we are at the statue of Vertumnus, who is the God of Seasons and Change. Sculpted by Francois Barois, Vertumne was placed in the Tuileries Gardens in 1722. Eugène Atget photographed the statue at the turn of the twentieth century. Atget took several photographs of the statues within the Tuileries Garden, creating somewhat of a photographic documentation collection of statues, as he similarly did with the city of Paris in general. Vertumnus is also the God of plant growth, gardens, and trees, which is fitting as he resides in one of Paris’s most beloved parks.
In Atget’s photo of the statue Vertumnus, the satyr is holding a mask of Vertumnus. Atget highlights the white marble of the statue and the mask with a concentration of light that contrasts with the darker face of the satyr. The satyr is revealing himself to Pomona, the nymph who took care of the gardens and whose only love and passion was gardens.
Another place that Atget employs light to showcase his subject is in his photo of the l’Aurore statue. The statue is basking in the sunlight, while the trees and ground below provide a dark contrast against the white marble. Atget photographs the statue at an angle where one can see the tunic wrapped around the statue’s body, emphasizing her shape. Additionally, by angling the camera upwards, the gracefulness of the statue is accentuated. If Atget had chosen to stand anywhere else to take the photo, the emotion of the face could not have been seen as clearly.
Atget’s humanity and style can particularly be seen in his photographs of the gardens of Paris, where Atget made a collection of photos ranging from the statues of the Jardin des Tuileries to the architectural details of the Parc de Versailles. The images taken of the gardens are primarily straightforward, almost as if Atget knew he was documenting a spectacular city at a unique time that would be appreciated for generations to come. Former First Lady Jacqueline Onassis expresses that “In the city parks we feel Atget’s humanity. He photographs with tenderness and melancholy” (Gardens 7). Onassis agrees that the city gardens of Paris, such as the Tuileries and Luxembourg, have more emotion and heart than in the stately gardens of Versailles, St. Cloud, and Sceaux where architecture and history reign king.
The atmosphere in the city gardens is a bourgeois-infused era, resistant to change and conform to modern society, but constantly preserving a classic atmosphere of royals and aristocracy. None of his garden images comply anything other than Atget's own preferences. In Atget’s Gardens by William Howard Adams, Adams states that, for Atget, “The parks and gardens…seemed to have their own compelling attraction for Atget that placed them as subject matter outside of his usual bread-and-butter material” (16). In general, Atget’s works in the gardens have a more surreal element to them compared to his works in the rest of the street-filled city.
Other statues Atget photographed in the Tuileries include the historical figure duo Daphne and Apollo. In the book Atget’s Gardens by William Howard Adams, he reveals that “The two figures stood originally on an island in the Bassin des Carpes at Marly until they were removed to the Tuileries after the Revolution. Atget made rather conventional photographs of the pair surrounded by heavy summer foliage, but he found the chill winter light and the stark trees a more appropriate setting for the sad story” (118). Atget utilizes both the environment and the light to dramatize the tragic love story of the two characters, showcasing both his historical and aesthetic knowledge and talent. He could have chosen a time of blooming trees and warm summer light to take the photos, yet opted for the opposite in order to highlight the mood of the story.
The Tuileries Gardens is located in the heart of Paris, residing in the first arrondissement on the right bank of the Seine River. Today, it serves as a place of congregation as well as relaxation for
Parisians and tourists. One can still find the statues that Atget photographed more than a hundred years ago in the Gardens.
One can almost imagine Atget strolling through parks like the Tuileries, taking time to stop before each statue and contemplate the best way to capture it with his camera. His attention to detail highlights not only the visual components of the statues, but the stories that lay behind them as well.
Atget is able to turn a bustling hub of interaction and civilization into a muse for his art. He works around the noise and the never-ending tourists to capture images free of people and focusing on the subject at hand. Everywhere one turns, history is rampant throughout the Tuileries. It is no surprise that Atget also photographed the ruins of the Tuileries Palace and the Place de Carrousel along with his photos of the statues, expanding his documentation of the place.
Overall, Atget’s work in the Tuileries Garden serve as a refined memory of the scenes one would have seen in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Through looking at his collection of photographs, one can feel the heart of a photographer set out to create a compilation of images unlike any taken before. At the turn of the century, no one was more passionate about capturing the essence of a garden as much as Atget. Due to his straightforward style of photography, it is easy to connect to the images because it is almost as if one is standing in the photograph. Evidently, the gardens of the Tuileries and others alike cast a sort of spell on Atget, as the abundant quantity of his images tell the story of a man deeply possessed by what these places had to offer. Atget has successfully conquered the documentation of one of Paris’s treasured jewels, a place where people congregate for a plethora of reasons.