Early 1900s Photos Of “The Old Paris” Just Before It Was Lost To Modernization

Published March 28, 2017
Grand Bazar Universel Sign
Small market in front of the Church of Saint-Médard, Paris, 1898.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Marchand Abat Jours
Lampshade merchant, Rue Lepic, Montmarte, Paris, circa 1899-1900.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

People Looking Skyward
Parisians looking at a total solar eclipse, April 17, 1912.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Pont Neuf Lamp
Pont Neuf, Paris, 1925.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget Guitar Player
A man plays guitar at an unspecified location in Paris, 1900.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Man On Bench
Jardin du Luxembourg, 1902.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Dome Post
Rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, 1924.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget Pool Statues
The Palace of Versailles, 1903.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget Tree Bank
Quai d'Anjou, 1924.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Girl In Doorway
Place Eau-de-Robec, 1908.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Statue Trees
Gardens of Château de Sceaux in Sceaux, a commune south of Paris, 1925.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Bar In Cabaret
Bar inside a cabaret, location unknown, circa 1900-11. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Car And Motorcycles Valence
Car and two motorcycles in front of garage, Rue de Valence, Paris, 1922.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Water Lilies
Water lilies likely in a botanical garden of Bagatelle, a park on the outskirts of Paris, 1910.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Trees Near Paris
Path near Saint-Cloud, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, 1923.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Boucherie Rue Christine
Butcher shop, Rue Christine, Paris, circa 1920s.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Boutique Fruits Legumes
Fruit and vegetable shop, Rue Mouffetard, Paris, 1925.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Bridge With Trees Foreground
Pont Marie, a bridge crossing the Seine, Paris, 1912.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Shop Front Of Courone Dor
Shopfront of the "Couronne d'or" (Gold Crown), Quai de Bourbon, Paris, 1922.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Manmade Pond With Statues
Statues in Saint-Cloud, a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, circa 1915-19.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Coin Rue Du Cimitiere Saint Benoit
Rue du Cimitière-Saint-Benoît, Paris, 1923.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Corsets Shop Storefront
Corset shop, Boulevard de Strasbourg, Paris, 1912. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Environs Of Paris
Outside Paris, circa 1920s.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Epicerie Fruterie Display
Grocery display covered during the lunch hour, Rue Maître-Albert, Paris, 1912.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Faucheurs Somme
Reapers, Somme, 1898.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

French Carousel
Carousel, location unknown, 1923.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

French Street Musicians
Street musicians, location unknown, circa 1898-1899.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

French Street Paver
Street paver, circa 1899-1900.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Headless Mannequin
Headless mannequin outside a shop, circa 1926–27. The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Maison Close
Unknown couple outside of a brothel, 1921.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Mannequins Men Storefront
Mannequins in shop windows, Avenue des Gobelins, Paris, 1925.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Paris Boutique
Boutique, Marché aux Halles, Paris, 1925.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Paris Interior
Residential interior, Paris, 1910.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Pompe Funebre Classe
Funeral couch, 1910.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Ragpickers Hut
Ragpicker's hut, location unknown, 1910.

Ragpickers made a living rummaging through refuse for salvage.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Rue Saint Rustique
Rue St. Rustique, Montmartre, Paris, 1922.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Vannier House Wagon
Basket-maker's house, outside Paris, circa 1910-1912.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Rue Laplace And Rue Valette
Rue Laplace and Rue Valette, Paris, 1926.The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Eugène Atget

Eugène Atget was what the French call a flâneur: an urban adventurer who finds great pleasure in the simple act of strolling through streets and parks, taking in the sights.

But Atget wasn't idle in his flânerie. He had an all-consuming appetite for the ambulatory hobby that Honoré de Balzac called "the gastronomy of the eye." Starting in 1898, Atget began photographing vieux Paris, or "Old Paris" — public spaces in the city about to be lost to urbanization.

To accomplish this, he dragged a large-format bellows camera through the streets, often beginning at dawn. (Photographer and critic John Szarkowski later called Atget's techniques "obsolescent when he adopted them, and very nearly anachronistic by the time of his death.")

But Atget didn't even want to be known as a photographer; he was instead an "author-producer" capturing and cataloging a fading scene. Not that the reclusive Atget had throngs of admirers to correct: his "documents" — as he preferred to call his photographs — were not well-known or acclaimed in his lifetime.

Atget and his documents, however, were sufficiently in demand. In 1906, the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, a library dedicated to the city's history, commissioned Atget to photograph the city. By the early '20s, Atget achieved financial independence by selling thousands of his negatives to various institutions.

His work later drew praise from the likes of Picasso and Matisse, while American photographers Man Ray and Berenice Abbott are credited with rescuing Atget's work from obscurity before his death in 1927. Abbott, in fact, was the first to exhibit his work outside of France and is responsible for many of Atget's existing prints.

Ray lived next to Atget in Paris for a time, once offering the now-famous flâneur his own modern camera. Atget refused. His old technology and techniques sufficed, and besides, Atget considered his work "finished" in 1920, five years before his acolytes came calling.

The gallery above is a cross-section of Eugène Atget's oeuvre, from his early, gritty work documenting inner-city street merchants and markets, to his gorgeous later work capturing the forests and gardens of the Parisian suburbs.


After this look at the work of Eugène Atget, check out early 20th century France in glorious color. Then, see what the French in the 19th century thought the 21st century would look like.

Kellen Perry
Kellen Perry writes about television, history, music, art, video games, and food for ATI, Grunge, Ranker, Ranker Insights, and anyone else that will have him.