Photography: Picturing Paris

An exhibition of rare photos of fin-de-siècle Paris opens at Beit Ticho.

dont reuse 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Israel Museum)
dont reuse 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Israel Museum)
A major gift of 200 rare photos of fin-de-siècle Paris by pioneering French documentary photographer Eugène Atget (1857–1927) was received recently by the Israel Museum, and is going on display today at noon at Beit Ticho, the museum’s historic branch in downtown Jerusalem off Harav Kook Street.
The collection, donated by Pamela and George Rohr of New York, and by an anonymous American donor, “adds an important new dimension to the Israel Museum’s exceptional photography holdings, encompassing over 55,000 works from the earliest days of photography to contemporary times,” says Israel Museum director James S. Snyder. “We are proud to be sharing Atget’s unique vision with Israeli audiences for the first time, and in the resonant setting of our historic Ticho House, which also juxtaposes turn-of-the-lastcentury Jerusalem with its encroaching modernity.”
“Atget’s photographs of Paris, including those featured in [the exhibition] ‘Eugène Atget: As Paris Was,’ do not depict the city as a bustling modern metropolis. He trained his lens on the older, often decaying buildings and parks. The scenes he captured, mostly devoid of human presence, express desolation and solitude, reminiscent of an empty stage awaiting the actors’ entrance,” explains Nissan Perez, the senior curator in the museum’s Noel and Harriette Levine Department of Photography.
Born near Bordeaux, Atget settled in Paris’s bohemian Montparnasse district in the 1890s where he embarked on a self-assigned mission to document French life, culture and history being transformed by modernity. His oeuvre of 10,000 scenes of houses, streets, parks and châteaus, which Atget termed “documents pour artistes” (documents for artists), attracted the attention of well-known painters such as André Derain, Henri Matisse and Picasso, who painted canvases from his anachronistic photographs.
Since its opening in 1965, the Israel Museum has maintained a focus on the exploration and exhibition of photography. By the early 1970s, New York photographer Arnold Newman had begun acquiring photographs for the museum’s photography department, which was formally established in 1977. In 2006, Newman bequeathed to the museum 70 works by other photographers from his personal collection.
Over the years, the department has developed several areas of expertise, including important examples by the medium’s pioneering 19thcentury practitioners, and photography of the Dada and Surrealist movements. It also features in-depth representations of such historically significant artists as Manuel Alvarez Bravo, Andre Kertész and Man Ray; and the 1998 gift of the Vera and Arturo Schwarz Collection of Dada and Surrealist Art added works of unequaled importance, further securing the museum’s place among the leading such holdings in the field.
The department also promotes contemporary Israeli photography through an active program of acquisitions as well as through individual and group exhibitions dedicated to the work of Israeli photographers.