Musée d'Orsay: Eugène Atget La Villette, prostitute Waiting

Eugène Atget
La Villette, prostitute Waiting

La Villette, rue Asselin, prostitute standing in front of her door
Eugène Atget (1857-1927)
La Villette, rue Asselin, prostitute standing in front of her door
Albumen print from a gelatine silver-bromide glass negative
H. 22.5; W. 17.8 cm
© RMN-Grand Palais (Musée d'Orsay) / Gérard Blot

La Villette, Rue Asselin, Prostitute Waiting in Front of her Door

In spring 1921, probably at the request of Andre Dignimont, a painter and collector of erotic images, Atget made a series of a dozen photographs of prostitutes and brothels for a publication that never reached the shelves.

He positioned his imposing bellows camera in Versailles and, in Paris, in the Fort-Monjol area of the nineteenth arrondissement where the Rues Monjol and Asselin (now Rue Turot) had a number of bawdyhouses that were permanently open to clients.

Sitting on a straw chair, a woman is frozen in a waiting posture, as emphasized by Atget’s title. The finesse of the details and the violent contrast obtained in developing the print make this woman of the streets one with her stone-dominated environment, which bears the scars of both urban development and social marginality. The slightly off-centre composition, the checkerboard pattern of the stones, and the subtle play of lines all heighten the sense of depth and draw the gaze in toward the black hole of the door.

This image, which Man Ray collected with others by Atget in an album published shortly after Atget’s death, soon achieved iconic status in the history of the medium, helping to elevate the conscientious, dogged artisan who archived Old Paris to the status of founding father of modernism.

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