Versailles, The Orangerie Staircase

Artist: Eugène Atget (French, Libourne 1857–1927 Paris)

Date: 1901

Medium: Albumen silver print from glass negative

Dimensions: Image: 16.9 x 21.7cm (6 5/8 x 8 9/16in.)
Mount: 32.8 x 25.3 cm (12 15/16 x 9 15/16 in.)

Classification: Photographs

Credit Line: Gilman Collection, Purchase, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Gift, through Joyce and Robert Menschel, 2005

Accession Number: 2005.100.132


Of the thousands of sites Atget photographed in Paris and its environs, Versailles was his chief obsession. He worked there from 1901 until his death, not only because the royal palace was historically preeminent, but because he discovered many truths in the vast gardens. He came to see that they embodied the essence of French civilization-the characteristic combination of elegance, order, and baroque excess which repeats as art the dichotomies of nature. He also learned that the photographer's main problem, like that of the landscape architect, is to establish a point of view which directs the movement of the imagination.

This photograph, taken during Atget's first summer at Versailles, demonstrates his precocious aptitude. The expansive avenue and stately flight of steps proceed grandly and with increasing expectancy up to nothing but the dimensions of a myth.